Asya Abdullah is not a polished politician. She speaks slowly and deliberately in Kurmanji in a tone which suggests she has had to practise her material many times.
But despite the reserved and careful exterior, Abdullah is one of the most radical and effective revolutionaries in the world today.
In the chaos of Syria’s civil war, the country’s Kurdish population has seized the chance to wrest their own destiny from the hands of others.
Long marginalised by the Baathist regime in Damascus, after repelling government forces in 2012 Syria’s Kurds have managed to carve out a relatively peaceful and stable new societal order based in Rojava in the north, flourishing despite the presence of enemies such as Isis on all sides.
Abdullah has been a driving force in the battle for Kurdish freedom – but as the female co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Union Party, elected alongside male representative Salih Muslim in 2010, it is her particular role to safeguard women’s liberation.
“The hallmark of a free and democratic life is a free woman,” she said in her keynote speech at the Rojava New World Embassy in Oslo at the end of November.
“Isis would like to reduce women to slaves and body parts. We show them they’re wrong. We can do anything.”
YPJ Spokeswoman Nesrin Abdullah said: “As the women of YPJ, our goal is a mental and intellectual liberation as well as the end of ISIS occupation. We are also fighting for the liberation of women and men.”
Monday, January 2, 2017 3:30 PM
QAMISHLO – ANF – BERÎTAN SARYA
YPJ (Women’s Defense Units) Spokeswoman Nesrin Abdullah described Raqqa operation that was launched at the end of 2016 and led by the YPJ as the operation to avenge all women, and said “Raqqa’s liberation is also the liberation of mentalities. Because as the women of the YPJ, we aim not only liberation from ISIS but also a liberation of mentality and thoughts. Democratic culture and fraternal life must be deepened because war is not only the liberation of land. We are also fighting for the liberation of women and men. If not, the patriarchal system will prevail once again.
In this sense, Operation Wrath of Euphrates to liberate Raqqa is also the liberation of the society. This is how we view it as the YPJ. We will continue to participate in the operation with the same enthusiasm in 2017 and avenge all women with the liberation of Raqqa.”
YPJ Spokeswoman Nesrin Abdullah answered ANF’s questions on the YPJ’s practices in 2016 and goals for 2017.
“2016 WAS A DIFFERENT YEAR”
As the YPJ, how do you evaluate your practice of war in 2016? In which battles and operations did you participate?
Firstly, 2016 was a different year because some formations were established and the YPJ took part in these formations. Before 2016, YPG and YPJ had co-organized operations. But in 2016, YPJ participated in new formations and operations as the force of women.
In 2016, we participated in Wrath of Habur, Elîn, Cudi, Manbij and Raqqa operations. Raqqa operation continues, and we also participated in the offensives in Aleppo’s Ashrafiya, factory, Seken and Shiqeyf regions. YPJ joined the efforts in Efrîn. A YPJ battalion also took part in the Jaysh al Thuwar units in Shehba and trained the women here. YPJ carried out its mission in Cizire and Kobanê cantons and had a leading role in all planned operations. These initiatives were not defensive; they were liberation operations. We were attacking ISIS gangs and liberating the lands that they occupied. For this reason, 2016 was a different year.
‘THE STRUGGLE OF YPJ AFFECTED OTHER FORCES INSIDE THE SDF’
There is another development that took place in 2016. YPJ’s participation in new formations brought out a unique situation. The forces that had mobilized inside the SDF did not include any women. They still do not, and the YPJ is the only force of women inside the SDF. This situation had several important impacts.
Arab people were the predominant residents of the liberated areas. They were impressed when they saw that women participated in military affairs and played a leading role in clashes. This had important consequences. Many women participated in the training in liberated areas. 2 units completed academic training for women’s participation inside the SDF. Currently, preparations for the announcement of an Arab Women’s Academy and Free Arab Women’s Battalion are under way. All of these were a result of the liberation operations that YPJ participated in this year.
On the other hand, there were no women inside the forces that make up the SDF. They were only fighting to defend their land and to liberate their country from ISIS. They were affected when they saw that women participated in the war and fought bravely. In a way, their understanding of manhood was transformed. They lived in a society where men were seen as superior, and they saw women as inferior. They thought women could only do housework and raise children. But the YPJ’s struggle inspired respect in them. They saw that the YPJ did not retreat or abandon its positions. This inspired a great trust, and they state that they have been affected by the YPJ’s discipline of war and life, comradeship and morale.
So, 2016 was the year when the women of YPJ reflected their color. This took place both socially and militarily. Our movement showed that the war was not only a struggle to defend our land but also a struggle to transform people in order to create the ‘new human.’
WE CONTINUED TO INSPIRE THE WOMEN OF THE WORLD
What impact did the YPJ’S struggle in 2016 have internationally?
Women’s revolution was the most special and impressive aspect of Rojava Revolution. Women took active and leading roles in all areas, including defense. Led by Kurdish women, YPJ protected and developed the impact and respect it has created all around the world. It is the first women’s organization of war and struggle across the globe. There has been no force or classical army like us. Other powers indeed have women’s units, but there is no organization other than the YPJ where women have their own decision-making power, will, conference, congress and social mobilization. YPJ has demonstrated these with its formation, and developed its struggle and leading position throughout the years. This enabled us to have a great impact internationally.
We lead with our lives and philosophy of war. Rojava society transformed significantly with the philosophy that the YPG and we share. This transformation did not only take place inside Kurdish society but among other peoples as well. So our impact was not only inside Syria but also global because women’s participation in defense had not taken place at this level and created a global impact.
“THEY WANT TO MAKE USE OF OUR EXPERIENCES”
We had many visits from different countries. Intellectuals, authors and politicians gave as positive feedback. We saw that we had transformed their perception of women. As the YPJ, we were invited to South Africa. We went there, met with the government, and participated in conferences and seminars. Many committees came to Rojava and visited the YPJ. They had discussions with us in order to make us of our experiences. All of these are a result of the inspiration created by the YPJ as women’s defense force. Many women want to make use of our experiences and organize their own units. Many groups come to Rojava and want to make use of our experiences and training for this purpose.
What are the results of the diplomatic activities the YPJ has carried out in 2016?
Of course, we carried out many public and private diplomatic activities in 2016. The result of these efforts was to reflect the results of our practices outside of Rojava. Many documentaries, promotional clips, interviews and books were prepared on the YPJ. I believe that it is the YPJ that will express itself most effectively. However, our visits and interactions have also had an impact.
How much did the YPJ grow this year quantitatively? What was the level of participation in the YPJ in recently liberated areas?
Actually, the international spirit gained more strength this year. This took place among local peoples, especially among Arab women. Many women from recently liberated areas participated in the YPJ. From Shaddadi to Manbij, many women have joined us. For this reason, we established an academy for Arab people. 2 Arab women’s units were formed inside the SDF with the support of the YPJ. Soon, an Arab Women’s Battalion will be announced. Women from Kurdish and other societies have also joined our ranks this year.
“WE EXPERIENCED PROFESSIONALISATION IN TRAINING”
How are YPJ fighters, who impress the world and inspire women, being trained? How was its training system in 2016?
2016 was a different year both in terms of opportunities and recruitment. YPJ experienced professionalization in training this year. We opened tens of military, scholar and field academies and YPJ mobilized women in these places.
With field academies, we promoted professionalization in war tactics and techniques. In recent years, the YPJ gained a lot of experience in the battlefield. We are transforming this experience into an academic consciousness. Hundreds of YPJ fighters receive academic training for this purpose. This is perhaps why women play a leading role. Our training courses are bilingual; in Kurdish and Arabic.
Our training covers many fields ranging from history to philosophy, life, personality, and women’s history. This is because the YPJ is not a brute fighting force but a force of social, cultural and moral consciousness. Women who realize themselves wage this struggle. Another important consequence of the YPJ’s struggle is that women have developed self-confidence. Women would trust men more than other women for too long in our geography. They overestimated men, but now they see the power in other women and do not view men as superior.
Women trust themselves more with the help of our training, and take a more active role in developing war tactics and techniques. They mobilize their intelligence more effectively and achieve better results.
Are there other forces that you have trained this year as the YPJ?
This year, women in liberated areas mobilized and formed their own organizations. One of the most beautiful developments of this year was the formation of Manbij Women’s Military Council. Of course, YPJ offered its educational and logistical support and participated in the Manbij operation. When Manbij Women’s Military council was formed, YPJ handed over its activities to them and withdrew. We have a working relationship with them and are ready to offer our support whenever they need it.
Bab Women’s Military Council was established and we offered our support to them as well. Women from Shehba formed their battalion and demanded us to train them, and we offered our support. We have a working-relationship with them as well. Arab women are in the process of establishing an Arab Women’s Battalion and we offer them our support too.
“WE WILL AVENGE ALL WOMEN AS WE LIBERATE RAQQA”
What is the YPJ’s participation in the ongoing Operation Wrath of Euphrates?
The Operation Wrath of Euphrates differs from other military campaigns. YPJ announced that it has a leading role in this operation because Raqqa is the ideological and political center of ISIS, the heart of Syria and the capital of ISIS. Our goal in this operation is to avenge all women, primarily the women massacred and sold by ISIS and the women of Raqqa that live under ISIS occupation. We have rescued 601 Êzîdî women and thousands of women and children in Raqqa from ISIS so far. As you know, winter conditions are difficult, but we have not experienced any weaknesses morally. YPJ commanders and fighters participated in Raqqa operation and have been on the front lines. The spokesperson of this operation is a woman commander.
“RAQQA’S LIBERATION IS ALSO THE LIBERATION OF MENTALITIES”
As I mentioned, we are also waging an intellectual battle. The liberation of Raqqa is not like the liberation of any other city. It is also the liberation of mentalities. As the women of YPJ, our goal is a mental and intellectual liberation as well as the end of ISIS occupation. Democratic culture and fraternal life should be deepened because we do not view the war as only the liberation of land. We are also fighting for the liberation of women and men. If this does not happen, the patriarchal system will prevail.
In this sense, the liberation of Raqqa is also the liberation of society. This is how the YPJ views it. We will continue to participate in the operation with the same enthusiasm in 2017 and avenge all women with the liberation of Raqqa.
As YPJ, what are your goals for 2017?
2017 will be the final year both militarily and politically. Even if a solution is not reached, the conditions for a solution will be created. On the other hand, there is the possibility that contradictions and clashes deepen. However, the YPJ will always support a democratic peaceful solution. For such a solution to take place, we should enhance our strength. Our goal is to double or triple our forces. In the YPJ, this spirit has become the defense spirit of the democratic nation.
We also would like to professionalize our forces by training and strengthen our units for the creation of a gender egalitarian society that is strong not only militarily but also ecologically. We know that we have this strength and free and conscious women mean that the society is conscious. This is our strategic goal. Again, we will continue to participate in the Operation Wrath of Euphrates with the same enthusiasm and liberate all women with the liberation of Raqqa.
Safe Haven in Syria – The Democratic Self Administration of Rojava
The Democratic Self Administration of Rojava (DSA) is a new reality in Syria that has been growing in size and significance since 2012. It is the self-governing area in the North-East of Syria. The DSA is governed and defended by Kurds, Arabs and Syriac Christians as well as any other ethnicity living in the DSA. The Syrian Democratic Forces (military force of the DSA) in alliance with the USA and International Coalition against ISIS have been the most effective force in the war against this terrorist entity in Syria.
The essence of this document is that if the DSA of Rojava will receive sufficient means to defeat ISIS and humanitarian aid, the DSA will become a safe haven for the refugees in Syria. We believe that this is also the solution that Europe is looking for. Together we can bring stability and freedom in Syria.
The Democratic Self Administration of Rojava & Syrian Democratic Forces
Right from the start of the civil war the situation in North Syria developed differently than in other parts of Syria. When the the civil war in Western Syria started the Kurdish PYD together with the Syriac Union Party (Syriac Christians) and their Syriac Military Council and various Arab tribes and organisations come to the conclusion to protect their
area. In this way this became early on a multi-ethnic and multi-religious entity. Together we created the Democratic Self-Administration under a common de facto constitution ‘The Social Contract’. The Social Contract was presented in 2014 at the UN in Geneva. Since 2013 local councils and Regional Parliaments were created and police and defensive forces were set up.
Furthermore local social work, co-operatives and civic life was encouraged and new civic
organisations sprang up. One of the main tasks of the new administration was the care for the poor and the refugees. An issue that remains a challenge until today. Please note that since the start more Syriac Christian, Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen factions and organisations have joined. At 17 March 2016 this process has been confirmed by confirming a project of federalation of Rojava and north Syria.
This step was necessary in order to give over 4 million people living in the DSA a clear
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Since its beginning the Democratic Self-Administration (DSA) has permanently been at war against ISIS. In growing cooperation with the USA and the International Coalition against ISIS, the DSA forces of Kurds, Arabs and Syriac Christian forces have step by step
driven back ISIS and broadened the support among Arabs and Syrian Turkmen. This cooperation reached a new phase when these various forces confirmed their existing co-operation by creating together the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at 10 October 2015 that operates under their joint command. Since then the SDF has been very successful in driving back ISIS in.
The Syrian Democratic Council has been founded as a political body representing the federal and democratic ethnic inclusive model for Syria. The SDC has political backing in Syria beyond the borders of The DSA. The goal was also for the SDC to be part of the (failed) UN Peace Talks however regardless clear efforts they never were invited due to Turkish pressure over participation of the PYD in the SDC.
The DSA of Rojava Norhern Syria is secular and has fully separated religious institutions of any kind from governing structures. The DSA implemented full freedom of religion, full and equal rights for women and co-operation between ethnicities. The social contract
is evidence of how each of these freedoms is implemented for real.
We firmly believe that The DSA of Rojava and its Syrian Democratic Forces are not only the
way to defeat ISIS but also the way to replace the mentality of ISIS. By supporting The DSA and its forces the EU and EU Member States can help to foster a culture of freedom in the Middle East. It will remove and prevent a threat towards Europe.
As Federation we have often expressed that we are prepared to become a Safe Haven for
refugees in Syria (DPI) on the condition that we receive the support for this goal. We need
support to defeat ISIS alltogether and to build the needed security. Furthermore we will need economic support and humanitarian aid to deal with the challenges. Finally we guarantee that the UNHCR and co-operating NGO’s will be most welcome to work according to their own approach and programs.
Towards a Safe Haven in Syria
In light of the current advances of the Syrian Democratic Forces can be achieved if the SDF receives sufficient support to defeat ISIS in all of North and East Syria. It is most likely that after these SDF victories over ISIS the Syrian regime will be able to defeat ISIS on the western side of the Euphrates. There is no armed conflict with the Syrian regime. In fact, the Syrian regime maintains presence inQamishli and Hassakeh. All observers agree that the civil war in western Syria can easily continue for years to come. This also
means that a large refugee stream will continue from that part of Syria. The SDF controlled area of The DSA will then be able to become the Safe Haven in Syria. After the defeat of ISIS it will become possible for Syrian IDP’s to reach SDF controlled areas.
It is clear that a number of needs have to be met in order to achieve this goal. These needs will be listed in more detail in the following pages.
We point to the fact that meeting these needs will be far more cost-efficient than any other solution to shelter refugees. Furthermore we believe that sheltering Syrian refugees in Syria is better for Syria and better for the refugees in the long run provided the needs are met. Finally we think that our socio-political environment of freedom will be the right environment for education programs. Education for all is in our opinion the best preventive program against terrorism.
Needs for a Safe Haven in Syria
1. Support to all components of the Syrian Democratic Forces
It is clear that the SDF would be much more efficient against ISIS if it would have sufficient
means to defeat ISIS far quicker than is the case right now. The SDF consist of approx. 50000 soldiers and has proven to be the most effective force against ISIS so far. ISIS in Syria has a maximum strength of 20.000. Furthermore the ratio of losses of SDF versus is most often 1:8. If their needs are met the SDF will be able to defeat ISIS in North and East Syria in a few months. Please note that ISIS has not been able to return and maintain presence in any SDF controlled area. Support to the SDF will also provide future security for the refugees.
2. Humanitarian aid and trade
It is obvious that without humanitarian aid it will be impossible to implement a Safe Haven in Syria. There are a number of core needs that can be further specified and developed in co-operation with the UNHCR and other NGO’s and providers of humanitarian aid. A umber of general needs can be listed here:
Complet refugee camps to be located in SDF protected areas. The SDF will provide
protection. Please note that our female military and police organisations will be here of
special significance as they will be focused at the security of women (as this is a huge
problem in refugee camps in the region).
Medical supplies in all its forms
Food transports for IDP’s
With regard to trade we hope the international partners and community will help the DSA
to secure that the border between the DSA and Iraqi Kurdistan will remain open from now
Support in establishing mechanisms to encourage economic life. In this respect we are
specifically interested in engaging with cooperative business models.
Political cooperation for the future of Syria
We believe that our model is based on the same values as to which the peace and stability of the free world is built on. It is our aim to strengthen the political cooperation with the free world in order to work together for peace in Syria.
It is obvious that this document is only a general outline as preparation for many more detailed discussions and operational aspects. We as DSA representatives look forward to discuss cooperation with any EU Member State to ensure that ISIS will be defeated and a significant part of Syria will be stable and a Safe Haven for refugees from Syria.
Sinam Mohamed, European representative of the Democratic Self Administration of Rojava:
The international community has to support Syrian Democratic Forces in the face of the Turkish occupation
The fascist alliance between “the Justice and Development Party” and “the nationalist extremist movement” in Turkey, has been waging a big campaign against Roj-Ava democratic revolution and Syrian Democratic Forces. The hostility that the Justice and Development Party has against the Kurdish people and their identity, make him allied with the fascist terrorist forces in Syria and use them as a tool to fight the Kurds, and to destroy their neighborhoods. But now Turkey’s ruling party is going by itself to the battlefield, and the goal is to kill the Kurds and destroy their experience of democracy.
The blind hostility of the Kurdish people is the one who pays the Turkish state for an alliance with international terrorism, and supporting the murderous criminal groups in Syria. This hostility will not end, if the support for terrorism in Ankara, Syria and others don’t end. In the beginning, it should put an end to the state hostility on the Kurdish people, their existence and their identity.
Who see the alliances of Turkish state in Syria, he will see the maps of relation with the terrorist forces; he will see the alliances with “Al-Nusra Front and Daesh with other groups”. There is a hostility to Syrian Democratic Forces that supported by the whole world in order to defeat terrorism. The main reason for betting on these terrorist groups is the hostility of Turkey to Kurdish people. If the hostility to the Kurdish people did not exist, Turkey now will support the democratic destination and fight terrorism with the rest of the world. But the hostility to the Kurds, make the Turkish state with the terrorism in facing the rest of the world.
Turkish state is always trying to be in the framework of the comprehensive war against the existence of the Kurdish people, using groups and armed organizations against Kurdish liberation movement. In case of failure of these terrorist groups in the implementation the tasks, the Turkish state itself fight, destroying cities, killing civilians, arresting mayors and the parliamentarians, and spread terror and murder in Kurdistan. This policy is practiced in northern Kurdistan against the Kurdish liberation movement. Now, they do the same practices and policy against Roj-Ava revolution. They fight after the failure of their tools and mercenaries.
In the beginning, Turkish state bet on “Al-Nusra Front”, supporting it in the occupation of (Secre Kanea / Ras Al-Ain), which tried to make of that region a platform to occupy the whole Roj-Ava. After failure, it decided to rely on the organization “Daesh”. It also worked on the creation of the remnants of the Kurds mercenary to weaken Roj- Ava experience from the inside through creating confusion and chaos. It is continuing in the armed struggle and war.
The fascist front, that controls Turkey, that sponsored “Daesh”, now it is under the pretext of the fight against this organization, it intervene militarily and occupies parts of Syria, but the main goal is to fight Syrian Democratic Forces. The goal is not “Daesh” but the goal is to destroy Roj-Ava experience and hit the Syrian Democratic Forces, in addition to prevent the creation of any democratic transition in Syria.
Therefore, Turkish military forces and its mercenaries intervened trying to reach Al-Baab city what, when they knew the plan of Syrian Democratic Forces about liberation this city. The logic is based upon the front fascism ruling in Turkey (Justice and Development Party and National Movement) is to prevent the Kurds from getting their rights in Syria, prevent the issue of democratic forces and the democratic transition. Except that is not matter what happens in this country of wars, confrontations, destruction and the spread of terrorist groups criminal. Turkish military intervention in Syria is only in order to prevent the Kurds from getting their rights. Ankara says that orally to the world. Some of the forces were presented this logic and accepted the Turkish occupation from this standpoint. Turkish state is also trying to market some of the other justifications such as preventing the flow of refugees on its territory, and tried to convince America by this argument besides the alleged fighting “Daesh. But the attack on Syrian Democratic Forces was a flagrant to the Turkish intentions. Now Turkey is trying to blackmail the forces acting on the Syrian scene that in the case to prevent the Kurds from getting their rights and the granting of followed parties a privileged place in the agreed new Syrian regime. So that Turkish troops can withdraw from the Syrian territory.
Syrian Democratic Forces and rebels Roj-Ava do not trust any of the parties to the conflict. They know that only the overall resistance powerful and influential are from Turkey will be forced to withdraw its troops from Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces and the resistance forces are who will force the Turkish fascist coalition to withdraw and retreat. Turkish state is trying to repeat the model of Cyprus in Roj-Ava, they will not withdraw until achieve its and its allies interests. In Syria, the Turkish occupation forces will not withdraw until the throttle Roj-Ava revolution, and create its interest in all institutions and decision of the Syrian state, so that the greatest influence is for them.
Roj-Ava has sacrificed thousands of martyrs in order to defeat “Daesh”. They are the first enemy of all mankind and civilization. The resistance in Kobani was intense. where the Kurds have defeated “Daesh”, after paying thousands of both martyrs and wounded. Now the Turkish state which sponsored “Daesh” try to enter their own in order to kill the Kurds and destroy Roj-Ava revolution. The world now is demanded to support Roj-Ava and Syrian Democratic Forces, and not to remain silent on the Turkish occupation of the brutal experience as well.
The world in which solidarity with the Kobani resistance, celebrate every year on the first of October; the World Day of Kobani, to remind the epics of the resistance. The world now has not to be silent in the face of the Turkish occupation that wants to undermine the spirit of the resistance for the sake of victory to the terrorists and destroy the democratic demands of the Kurdish.
Dozens of European, Australian and American young people have sacrificed life within the resistance of Roj-Ava in defense of the values of civilization and co-existence in the face of terror, brutality, murder and barbarism. These values must be protected and do not let the Turkish state fascism that support the terrorism to throttle the Roj-Ava revolution.
Turkish state, through the fascist ruling alliance, not only attacks Syria Democratic Forces and experience of Roj-Ava only, but also it is like “Daesh” fights all the democracy in addition all advocates of co-existence. It advocates reactionary, dictatorship and repression. Thus, the world is morally obliged to support the democracy, the rights and coexistence through supporting Syrian Democratic Forces, The world has to refuse the oppression, occupation and advocating terrorism and criminality, through rejecting the fascist Turkish occupation of northern Syria.
* Newspaper (Yeni Özgür Politika)
Revolution in Rojava is the first book-length account of the unique and extraordinary political situation in Rojava, Syria. In this article, Janet Biehl talks to the authors and discusses how and why the new society in Rojava so inspired them.
For decades, three million Syrian Kurds have lived under brutal repression by the Assad regime, their identity denied, access to education and jobs refused, imprisonment and torture a way of life for those who dared object. Yet resistance has grown. By developing organisations, after the Arab Spring arrived in Syria in March 2011, the Kurds seized the moment to create a pioneering, democratic revolution. The liberation of northern Syria—Rojava—began at Kobanî on July 19th 2012, and the global history of social and political revolution would never be the same again.
In May 2014, three Kurdish solidarity activists from Germany and Turkey decided to visit Rojava. ‘I wanted to see it, to learn from its practice’, says Michael Knapp, ‘to understand the contradictions and research the system’s difficulties. Because we can learn a lot from it for revolutionary projects in Western countries.’ With their combined language skills, contacts, and extensive knowledge of the movement, they were able to do close fieldwork and interview many people.
Upon their return, they compiled their observations into a book, Revolution in Rojava, which has just been published in English.
One of the three authors, Anja Flach, was particularly interested in studying women’s role in the revolution. Twenty years earlier, Flach had spent several years the Qandil Mountains of Northern Iraq, where she participated in the Kurdish women’s guerrilla army, the PAJK. There, she focused on political education and struggle. She observed, ‘it’s part of everyday life, in between military training, to do political analysis, to read and discuss together’. Inspired, Flach came home and immediately began to write about her experiences.
Only with the defense of Kobanî in late 2014, however, did the world finally became aware of the existence of Kurdish women fighters and commanders, equipped only with light weapons, yet successfully running IS out of the city at great risk.
But what were they actually fighting for? Little was known, says Flach, about the wide-reaching system of gender-equality that they were defending. She discovered that the implementation of these principles had been successful throughout the revolutionary society. Across the stateless democratic self-administration and throughout political organisations, leadership is dual (male-female) for every speaker position, and every committee and meeting has a forty percent gender quota. Indeed, Flach recognised these principles from her years in the Qandil Mountains. Polygamy and underage marriage have been banned, and women’s cooperatives are being constructed throughout Cizire canton, to give women economic independence, usually for the first time in their lives.
Flach found that the women in Rojava are determined to remake gender relations throughout northern Syria. She saw ‘a women’s committee in every street, and in every neighborhood a women’s council, a women’s academy, women’s security forces, and armed units’. These indefatigable activists go from house to house, informing the women at home that they have access to women’s institutions. ‘The women’s movement would like to win over and organise every woman,’ Flach says, ‘regardless of whether she is a Kurd’. Syriac women too are forming autonomous councils and military units.
For Flach, visiting Rojava was like a dream come true. ‘It was what we had been fighting for all
those years—a free society that administers itself.’ Most astoundingly, ‘in Rojava I came across many of my onetime fellow fighters again. As young women they had left Rojava to join the PKK, and now they’ve returned to defend the revolution.’
Ercan Ayboğa, a Kurd living in Diyarbakir, works with the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement in North Kurdistan, Southeastern Turkey, and is a key organiser against the construction of a dam at Hasankeyf, a site of major historical, ecological, and cultural importance that is poised to be flooded by the dam’s reservoir. In Rojava, with his ecologist’s eye, he was shocked by the lack of trees and biological diversity in agriculture, for example, the crops in Cizire canton were a wheat monoculture. Trained as a hydraulic engineer, he was appalled by the water crisis: ‘All the rivers were dry—even in May—or else very polluted.’
In Rojava, Ayboğa studied the communes-and-councils structure, which was set in motion by the revolution’s chief organizations: the MGRK (People’s Council of West Kurdistan), the Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM), and the PYD (Democratic Union Party). Shortly before the 2012 liberation, he says, they instituted a system of radical democracy that combines council and grassroots democracy. ‘On the ground are the communes, which are organised in the residential streets of cities and villages. Above them are the people’s councils in three other levels. The lower level is represented in the higher level through its coordination. At each level are nine commissions that cover the whole life like defense, women, civil society, diplomacy/politics, economy, education, and health. This system has empowered hundreds of thousands of people in a very effective way; people have started to govern themselves and to make decisions about their lives.’
As the Kurdish forces fighting IS liberate numerous villages, this system of democratic self-administration is spreading farther into northern Syria. ‘TEV-DEM activists go the villages and cities and describe themselves and what they’ve done in the past few years,’ says Ayboğa. ‘They propose that the people organise themselves in communes. We have dozens of new communes, very soon hundreds of them, with a mainly Arab population.’ He was greatly impressed by the will of the many political activists, including young people and women, hoping that their struggle be successful, overcome all challenges, and build up a new society.
The group’s third member, Michael Knapp, is a veteran of the German left since the 1990s. He describes himself not as a solidarity activist but as part of the movement for radical democracy. He took great interest in Rojava’s ‘social economy’, based on the understanding that a democratic polity requires for its existence democratic control over the economy. In contrast to neoliberalism, and to state socialism where the state administers the economy, Rojava’s social economy administers production through the democratic self-administration: the economic commissions are accountable to the communes and councils at all levels.
The revolution demands that new enterprises should be organised as structured cooperatives. ‘Cooperatives exist in all sectors of society, even the refining sector’, says Knapp. ‘Most of those the enterprises we visited were small, with some five to ten persons producing textiles, agricultural products, and groceries. But some were bigger, like a cooperative near Amûde that guarantees subsistence for more than 2,000 households’. Under the regime, Northern Syria was not industrialised, instead it is maintained as a source of raw materials and foodstuffs. However, the social economy is planning future alternative industrialisation built around ecological and communalist principles.
However, this process hasn’t yet been possible because of the war. Moreover, Rojava is under an economic embargo, imposed by hostile Turkey to the north, the Turkey-dependent KRG to the east, and the murderous IS and other Salafi-jihadist groups to the south.
Yet Rojava survives, says Flach, partly because the people have no alternative but to fight, and partly because of their organisations and their ideological background. Rojava needs international support, especially from doctors, midwives and engineers willing to go there. Financial support is also crucial, as is political support. But most importantly, says Flach, is for sympathisers to learn from the Rojava model and organise in their own countries. ‘War and industrialism, and the social and ecological disasters connected with it, are destroying the foundations of life,’ she says. ‘It is urgently necessary to organise and to construct an alternative to the capitalist patriarchy. The survival of humankind depends on it.’
Janel Biehl is a writer, editor and translator. She was Murray Bookchin’s copyeditor for the last two decades of his professional life. Her most recent work is Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin (2015, Oxford University Press).
Michael Knapp is a historian of radical democracy, Cofounder of the Campaign Tatort Kurdistan and member of NavDem Berlin. His research focuses on the Kurdish issue and the construction of alternatives to capitalist modernity. His research has taken him to the Middle East, where he has studied the Kurdish Liberation Struggle and the PKK.
Anja Flach is an ethnologist and member of the Rojbîn women’s council in Hamburg. She spent two years in the Kurdish women’s guerrilla army and has previously published books about her experiences.
Ercan Ayboğa is an environmental engineer and activist. Formerly living and co-founding the Tatort Kurdistan Campaign in Germany, now he lives in North Kurdistan and is politically involved in the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, particularly in water struggles
- Illustrations: 32 photographs, 2 maps
A new kind of society is being built in Syria, but it’s not one you would expect. Surrounded by deadly bands of ISIS and hostile Turkish forces, the people living in Syria’s Rojava cantons are carving out one of the most radically progressive societies on the planet today. Western visitors have been astounded by the success of their project, a communally organised democracy which considers women’s equality indispensable and rejects reactionary nationalist ideology whilst being fiercely anti-capitalist.
The people of Rojava call their new system democratic confederalism. An implementation of the recent ideology of the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, it boasts gender quotas of 40 percent, bottom-up democratic structures, deep-reaching ecological policies and a militancy which is keeping ISIS from the gates.
Revolution in Rojava is the first full-length study of this ongoing social and political transformation in Syrian Kurdistan. It is the first authentic insight into the complex dimensions of the revolution. Its authors use their own experiences of working and fighting in the region to construct a picture of hope for Middle-Eastern politics and society, and reveal an extraordinary story of a battle against the odds.
We Will Not Retreat to East of Euphrates: YPG Spokesman Redur Xelil
People’s Protection Units (YPG) spokesperson Redur Xelil has said the Kurdish force will not retreat from the west of the Euphrates to the east.
Speaking to journalist Mutlu Civiroglu, Xelil said his words had been misconstrued and that they wouldn’t withdraw at anyone’s request.
“We are in our own country and not withdrawing on the request of Turkey or someone else,” Xelil told Civiroglu.
Reuters had said that Xelil had told them they would withdraw if the SDF instructed them to.
Turkish officials have threatened YPG with military action if the Kurdish force, which took part in the liberation of Manbij on the west of the Euphrates under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), did not retreat back across the river.
A top US official and Vice President Joe Biden also said they had told YPG forces to retreat to the east of the Euphrates or they would cease support for the group.
Turkish troops and FSA militants began a cross-border incursion into Jarablus today and have taken control of the ghost city within 12 hours. Reports suggest there were no clashes between them and Islamic State militants, who have withdrawn to Al-Bab. Some commentators have called attention to the fact that IS had allegedly conducted artillery attacks on Turkish soil in the past two days but there was no IS presence in Jarablus when Turkish-FSA forces arrived.
The Kurdish Trap and Division Among Kurds
The Qamishli massacre perpetrated by the Islamic State today, in which at least 44 people have been killed and more than 150 injured, has once again brought to light the division among Kurds.
Some quarters have immediately claimed that if the KDP-S (Kurdistan Democratic Party – Syria), which is the Rojava/Syria branch of the KDP in KRG (N.Iraq), had been allowed to operate in Rojava, this attack wouldn’t have happened.
Others have reacted by insinuating or outright saying that Turkey and by extension the KDP could be behind this terrible attack to further push the PYD into a corner. I myself have been targeted by an overzealous tweeter for being critical of any possible use of the attack to make political or military gains. The arguments ensue and the blame game that is limited to 140 characters makes no headway for rapprochement between Kurds supporting different political parties, especially the KDP and PKK.
What I find devastating about all this is that Kurds are still willing to fight among themselves when even the blood of the people killed is yet to dry. I have to constantly remind myself that it is inevitable that Kurds who do not comprehend the ‘Kurdish trap’ do this.
It is not easy to identify and define the ‘Kurdish trap’, because it is a historical concept that has embedded in it, a complex web of relations between the different parts of Kurdistan and the regional and international system that has colonised it.
Essentially the ‘Kurdish trap’ was created with the division of the Middle East to snag the Kurds and prevent their freedom by playing them off against the states they live under and also against one another. So in extension as well as being an intra-Kurdish trap the ‘Kurdish trap’ is also a Turkish, Arab, Persian and even Armenian ‘trap’ too. However, because these nations have recognised states, they are unaware they are victims of the trap and as dominant-nations, do not feel the oppression of the trap as Kurds do.
What most don’t realise though, is that without the Kurds’ freedom, there will be perpetual war, which weakens both the state in question and also Kurdish society. Being at war constantly leaves the majority of citizens in the country poor but serves the ruling elites of these states, who are always in cahoots with their counterparts in the international arena and use the Kurds as scapegoats to justify their corruption and despotism against their own people. Nationalist rhetoric is always at hand to make Kurds targets for Turks, Arabs and Persians. The only complaints then are that Kurds are dividing or destabilising their countries, that Kurds are the tools of Imperialist powers or that Kurds are inferior and don’t deserve to be free.
Giving an example from Northern Kurdistan (SE Turkey) will make the point above clearer. The Kurdish Freedom Movement (KFM), which includes the PKK, is struggling for autonomy within Turkey and what it calls a Confederal Kurdistan that joins the four parts but does not erect new borders. It is seen by Turkish nationalists as a terrorist, separatist organisation in the service of imperialist powers; the religious see the KFM as a godless, heathen movement which is a secular danger to their Sunni Kurdish ‘brothers’ and the tool of Christians (US) and Jews (Israel); some socialists and communists have declared it nationalist and therefore primitive and not revolutionary along class lines; some Alawites see it as a Sunni movement that is a danger to their already threatened existence; liberals see it as a radical group that is a threat to neoliberal capitalism; and some Kurdish nationalists see it as a non-Kurdistani movement that has sold out the dream of an independent Kurdish state. Meanwhile the Turkish state, employing many guises, uses all these groups against the KFM when it sees fit.
Add to this the fact that Turkey is a NATO state and a geostrategic ally of even Russia and Israel, and that this leaves no room for the KFM to develop strategic relations with any other state entity -because the PKK is on the ominous terror list- and you have a tight spot that is called the ‘Kurdish trap’. The KFM tries to elide this trap by developing strategic ties and solidarity with progressive non-state actors and entities, including revolutionary and democratic groups around the world, but it does not suffice in a world system that is based on states.
The above example plays out similarly in the other parts of Kurdistan and in relation to other parties. Kurds’ demands for autonomy, federation or statehood are labeled as being either treacherous, not feasible or dangerous to the status quo. Even the KRG, which is supposedly a strategic ally of the US and Israel and enjoys good ties with Turkey, cannot get support for independence. Because independence in one part they fear, will bring about independence in another, upsetting the balance of power and allies in the region. This is why Turkey, which has tried to confine Kurdish aspirations to within the borders of the KRG, has such strong enmity towards Rojava. It is also why the KRG -specifically the KDP- which is demanding independence, is treading a fine line between being successful and burying the aspirations of Kurds in other parts, primarily Northern Kurdistan (SE Turkey).
This is also where the contradictions and conflicts between the KFM and the KDP are rooted. While the KFM’s political alliance axis in relation to states is tactical (short-term), the KDP’s is strategic and it politicks on this axis. Furthermore and due in some part to this, they are diametrically opposed in ideological and organisational terms. Although the KDP’s alliances mean that they can secure certain international support for the KRG or for the Kurdish cause, it also means a weakness and limitation to act in other cases. Conversely, whereas the KFM is freer in its actions, it is less well connected and can be isolated by international powers. This of course is another element of the ‘Kurdish trap.’
And so let’s return to the beginning, to Rojava, where Kurds are trying not to fall into this trap, but also struggling because of all the historical and current forces stacked up against them. They are attempting to build a system that doesn’t fall into the multiple traps that make up the ‘Kurdish trap’: nationalism, religionism, statism, imperialism, capitalism and sexism. Despite this they are not receiving the support they deserve, not just from international organisations and public opinion but also from Kurds, their own brethren. Many people don’t realise it but Rojava’s success is not just a victory for Kurds and Kurdistan but all of the Middle East: its peoples, cultures, religions and civilisations.
It is imperative that Kurds comprehend the trap that has been set for them and their neighbours, and tread carefully in the Middle East. We don’t have to agree on every point, policy or action by political parties and organisations. We all have limitations and so do the parties and organisations we are engaged with or support. But we do have to respect each other, discuss with nuance and develop solidarity with the people fighting for justice and equality. The alternative is to continue fighting with each other and those we deem our enemies, but who are our neighbours and the people we will continue living side-by-side with whether we like it or not, (not including IS and proxy jihadists). In a sense we all have one foot in the ‘Kurdish trap’ and unless we are very careful it will continue snagging us and we will continue reproducing it until our country, resources and people are depleted.
Note: Other groups, such as the Assyrians and Turkmen are also victims of the ‘Kurdish trap’.
Note: the map used above is not important in determining the future of Kurdistan and doesn’t reflect the ‘borders’ of Kurdistan. If possible Kurdistan should have no borders. The map represents the division of Kurdistan.
Freedom of A. Öcalan Will Guarantee
Success of the Peace Process in Turkey
The Committee for Freedom of Öcalan c/o KNK Rue Jean Stas 41, 1060 Bruxelles
The Committee for Freedom of Öcalan
In 1998, Turkey threatened Syria with war if Syria did not expel the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan from the country. As a result of this threat, Abdullah Öcalan left Syria and travelled to Europe in order to promote a political solution. However, due to continued pressure from Turkey, Öcalan could not find amnesty in Europe and eventually found himself in Kenya.
On 15 February 1999, Öcalan was captured in Kenya by Turkish special agents in a clandestine operation backed by an alliance of secret services, CIA and Mossad (which was officially accepted by the US State Department at the time). He was abducted and handed over to the Turkish state. The capture of Turkey’s “enemy number one” was claimed by the authorities in Ankara as their victory against the Kurds, who had been waging a mass uprising against the policies of denial and discrimination; a struggle Öcalan had led since the 1980s. The capture of the Kurdish leader was regarded by the Kurds as the outcome of an “international conspiracy”, the denial of the legitimacy of the Kurdish struggle, and involving the security services of several nations. His abduction sparked outrage and major protests from Kurds all over the world.
Öcalan’s capture was followed by a show trial during which Turkish prosecutors sought to portray the Kurdish leader as a “terrorist”. In reality, this was not a fight against terrorism, rather, it was a war in accordance with international law. It is an armed conflict for the purpose of international humanitarian law in accordance with the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the additional protocols of 1977. The PKK became a signatory to the Geneva Conventions in 1995.
Since this date, this war was subject to the Geneva Conventions, but this was completely ignored by Turkey and its allies. Despite these limitations, Öcalan was deeply committed to a peace process, and with this in mind he began a new quest for a peaceful solution.
Within this framework, Öcalan used his defence to articulate the case for peace and reconciliation between Turks and Kurds based on the recognition of the Kurds’ cultural and national differences within a unitary state. The defence by Öcalan was very significant, as at the time Turkey was on the brink of a full scale civil war. This stand prevented Turkey from deteriorating into a Turkish-Kurdish civil war.
Öcalan’s lawyers took the case to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn the unfair trial that took place in Turkey. The court ruled in 2003 that Öcalan’s trial was not fair, that his right to fair legal representation had been restricted and that he had faced inhumane conditions in Imrali prison. Unfortunately, the ECHR did not fulfil its role completely and did not attempt to adequately investigate the truths behind Öcalan’s illegal abduction through the international conspiracy and the breaking of the rules of war. This inadequate stand is still encouraging the Turkish state to continue with its policies of isolation, and preventing any pressure on Turkey to engage in a legitimate peace process. During the 16 year imprisonment of Mr Öcalan, the CPT prepared several reports – after strong mass actions (hunger strikes, rallies and signature campaigns) by the Kurdish people – in which they accepted that Turkey was infringing the human rights of Öcalan and keeping him in solitary confinement. This, however, never led to any practical sanctions. CURRENT SITUATION
Turkey’s Failed Coup and Erdogan’s Anti-Kurdish Agenda
On 15thJuly 2016 an unsuccessful attempt at a coup happened in Turkey. Even at this early stage, the post-coup process obviously will have important consequences. It is important to understand that this process was started on the 7th June 2015, when Erdogan lost the elections and conducted an anti-democratic intervention into the results. It is important to make a comprehensive analysis of the coup in order to understand the potential outcomes.
Before everything, it is important to specify that this coup was not undertaken by Gulenists. Due to the conflict between the AKP and the Gulenists, sympathisers of Gulen may have taken part in the coup attempt. But by saying “the Gulenists attempted the coup” they are trying to make a platform in which they can suppress Gulen’s supporters even more. By labelling the coup as Gulenist, they are hoping to rally support in order to take revenge on the coup plotters. In other words, they are trying to kill two birds with one stone.
It is evident that this attempt was backed by a large part of the army. If they had planned and executed it more professionally, it may have had a chance to succeed. In this regard, it cannot be said that it was undertaken by Gulenists or a minority; there isn’t enough of a Gulenist presence in the army to pull off a coup.
Maybe many of the coup plotters who are waging the war against the Kurds in Kurdistan were not practically involved, but it has been understood that many of the Generals in the region supported the coup. They were careful because their participation would have hampered their war effort against the Kurds. However, many of the Generals in the war against the Kurds have been detained as supporters of the coup.
An insistence on war strengthened the hands of the coup-plotters
When the AKP couldn’t solve the Kurdish question, it veered towards a war of destruction against the Kurdish Freedom Movement in the past year. Especially towards the end of 2014 and the 7th June 2015 election, the coup mechanism was in place and resulted in the attempt at a fascist coalition. When Erdogan veered off towards war, the army became the main player. Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP were dependent on the army in their war against the Kurdish Freedom Movement.
When Erdogan decided to intensify the war and sent the army to destroy Kurdish towns, the coup mechanism was set in place. During the war, the army strengthened its own hand against Erdogan. This is because the army can only become a central player in Turkish politics while it is in a war against the Kurdish Freedom Movement. So after a period in which the army had lost its centrality in Turkish politics, through Erdogan’s notion that “we won the war in the cities, we destroyed the PKK”, the army once again gained the confidence to attempt a coup. This coup wanted to redesign Turkish politics. The statement by the coup-plotters clearly points towards this.
“We fought the war, we should do the politics”
The coup-plotters are a new nationalist wing, separate from the Ergenekonists [traditional nationalist statists]. This new trend has been shaped by an opposition to the policies of the AKP. We might even say that the changes made in the AKP’s foreign policy (renewing relations with Israel and Russia, and a change of policy towards Egypt, Iraq and Syria) may have stimulated this new formation. This coup-plotters, who can also be called ‘neo-nationalists’, have closely witnessed the cooperative relationship between the AKP and ISIS. Due to the fact that they are on the frontlines where this relationship is being implemented, they have learnt how the relationship between the AKP and ISIS is handled. If the coup had been successful, they would have prosecuted the AKP for supporting ISIS with backing from the West.
It seems as though the coup-plotters’ approach was: “Turkey’s main political problem is the Kurdish question, and we are the ones on the front line, so we should shape the politics of Turkey.” When civilian governments do not have any policies in solving the Kurdish question, the coup mechanism is always functioning. The fact that they named themselves “The Council of Peace in the Country” is a reflection of their thinking that “we will conduct the politics when it comes to the Kurdish question”. In short, their approach was “whoever is fighting the PKK should dominate politics and own Turkey”.
After the coup attempt: Sectarian nationalism will create a Turkish ISIS
After the coup was defeated, the AKP and its allies declared themselves as the “will of the people” and “democratic forces”. The AKP now hopes to strengthen its grasp on power and their anti-Kurdish, anti-democratic system. In this regard the representation of the AKP, its supporters and its allies as the defenders of democracy is a dangerous development; the AKP can more easily implement its anti-Kurdish, anti-democratic policies.
Given that the AKP’s allies are the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and chauvinist nationalists, a rise in anti-Kurdish sentiment and anti-democratic approaches can be expected. These forces have become even more tightknit after the coup attempt; this will lead to a deepening of genocidal policies against the Kurds. Just as this coup attempt has emboldened the AKP, its allies and the nationalists, it has also radicalised the sectarian nationalist circles close to the AKP. This will lead to a new breed of Turkish ISIS-like formations, such as Osmanli Ocaklari, a paramilitary group organised by Erdogan himself. They are already organising in European countries; links between them and ISIS are already being discussed. These sectarian nationalist trends will further radicalise and become repressive forces against any opposition to the AKP. Many of the people who took to the streets during this period were from these organisations. It can be expected that these groups will step up their attacks against the Kurdish people. The freedom forces of the Kurdish people and the democratic forces of the country should prepare themselves against these attacks.
What the AKP will do — and the responsibilities of democratic forces
There are statements that say “this coup attempt should be turned into an opportunity and platform for democratization”. These calls are made with good intentions but need to be followed up. All attempts at a coup can be blocked by democratisation. However, the anti-coup rhetoric of some is not grounded in a democratic mentality; rather it is more to do with the ongoing power struggle. These people aren’t democrats or anti-coup! These people had already taken power through a coup against democracy. For this reason, democratisation cannot be expected of these people in order to hinder possible coup attempts. These people will use this coup attempt in order cover their real faces and intentions. They have already started doing this.
In this regard, to expect that the AKP will take steps to democratise the country in response to this coup attempt is nothing but self-deception. One needs to take a closer look at Erdogan and the alliances of his Gladio. Nothing other than anti-Kurdish sentiment and anti-democratic development can be expected from this coalition. And when the AKP eventually discards these allied groups, the sectarian nationalist groups will radicalise and become Turkey’s version of ISIS. Under the ideological and political umbrella of the AKP, a more radical version of the Muslim Brotherhood will be formed in the region. Tayyip Erdogan will see this coup attempt as an opportunity to make preparations and take steps towards this end. There already are sectarian nationalist factions within the police force. Erdogan saw the actions of these groups during this coup attempt. Turkey will become a police state. The police will become an alternative armed force to the army.
The forces of democracy must reanalyse the situation after this coup attempt. The fascism of the AKP will seek to suppress all democratic forces. They will try to get all factions of society to obey its rule. Any opposition will be labelled as ‘coup-supporters’ and will be brutally suppressed. If the forces of democracy do not act to change this situation, Erdogan will force everyone into submission. In this regard, the forces of democracy must understand the reality of the AKP and its allies and must form a new front for resistance.
IMRALI PEACE DELEGATION IN ISTANBUL
This was not only worrying for the Kurdish people, but also for many internationally renowned individuals, academics, human rights activists and politicians. Those people that did not accept the continuous massacring of people formed an initiative named the Imrali Peace Delegation. This initiative was popularly supported by many people around the world. Supported by people like Noam Chomsky Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author, US; Mauro Palma President of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe, Italy; Tariq Ali Writer, journalist and filmmaker, UK; Dr Felix Padel Professor at JNU, Delhi and author, India; Prof David Graeber anthropologist, London School of Economics; author and social activist, UK; Baroness Helena Kennedy QC House of Lords, UK; Baroness Jenny Jones House of Lords, UK; Mark Thomas political satirist, author and journalist, UK; Jeremy Hardy, stand-up comedian, actor, writer and activist, UK; John Holloway Professor of Sociology and author, Mexico; Dr Norman Paech, Professor of international and national constitutional law, Hamburg University, retired and politician, Germany; Dr Dafydd Iwan, former President of Plaid Cymru Party, Wales; Dr Bill Bowring Professor of Law in the School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London and author, UK; Mike Mansfield QC President of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, UK; James Kelman Writer and Booker Prize winner, Scotland; Bruce Kent Vice-President Pax Christi, UK; Dr Derek Wall Writer and International Coordinator of the Green Party, UK; Bert Schouwenburg, International Officer, GMB, UK; Stephen Smellie, Deputy Convenor UNISON, Scotland; Grahame Smith, General Secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress, Scotland; Nick Hildyard Policy adviser, UK ; Louise Christian Vice-President of Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, UK; Tony Simpson Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, UK; Ara Sarafian Director, Gomidas Institute, UK; Alastair Lyon lawyer, Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, UK; Matt Foot lawyer, Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, UK; Bronwen Jones barrister, Goldsmith Chambers, UK; Johannes de Jong, Manager of Christian Political Foundation for Europe (CPFE), The Netherlands ; Feroze Mithiborwala, well known international activist and the General Secretary of India Palestine Solidarity Forum who recently visited Syria, India, and led by Nelson Mandela’s lawyer, Judge Essa Moosa, a group (Dimitri Roussopoulos, Co-founder of the Transnational Institute of Social Ecology, Quebec, Canada; Janet Biehl, writer, translator, artist, US; Federico Venturini, School of Geography, University of Leeds; Member of Advisory Board of the Transnational Institute of Social Ecology, UK; Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Lecturer of Political Sociology, Cambridge University, UK; Dr Radha D’Souza, Reader in Law and social justice activist, UK; Andrej Hunko, German MP of The Left party for Aachen, Germany; Eirik Eiglad, writer, translator and New Compass Press, Norway; Edgar de Jesús Lucena González, Member of the National Assembly of Venezuela; Joe Ryan Chair of the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, UK) consisting of people from Canada to Venezuela to India and various European countries applied to the Turkish Justice Ministry to visit Imrali Prison. The delegation conducted several meetings in Istanbul while waiting for a response from the Justice Ministry. However, the isolation of Ocalan meant that this application fell on deaf ears. Below is a summary of the report from this delegation:
ISOLATION OF ABDULLAH ÖCALAN
The escalation of conflict has coincided with the total isolation of the leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, Abdullah Öcalan, who from his lonely prison cell on the island of Imrali has been a crucial role-player and a consistent voice calling for peace.
Yet the very fact that Öcalan is in prison was a problem even during the talks that occurred for two years starting in March 2013. His condition of imprisonment forces him to negotiate with his captors – an inherent disadvantage. Moreover, in prison he cannot consult with his constituency. Before substantive negotiations can start, the state must first release him, as Nelson Mandela was released before – not after or during – the South African negotiations. Until Öcalan is freed, only talks about talks, and not actual negotiations, can take place. Mandela emphasized that only free persons and not prisoners can negotiate, on behalf his people, for a political solution.
THE ONLY VIABLE SOLUTION
Neither the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) nor the Turkish military could ever decisively prevail in a war that would only exacerbate the severe humanitarian crises in the country, the peace process offers the only solution and Öcalan, as the chief spokesperson for the Kurdish movement, is essential to that process. No progress toward a solution can be achieved without Öcalan’s participation.
THE TEN-MEMBER INTERNATIONAL PEACE DELEGATION
On February 14 a ten-member international delegation assembled in Istanbul to try to help restart the Kurdish-Turkish peace process, which has been suspended since the spring of 2015. The leader of the delegation, Judge Essa Moosa of the High Court of South Africa, on behalf of the delegation, wrote a letter to the Turkish Ministry of Justice on February 3 to request two meetings: one with the Ministry, to discuss ways and means to resume the peace process between the Turkish government and Ocalan; and one with Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali to discuss the same issue. We requested that the meetings take place on February 15, which coincided with the seventeenth anniversary of Öcalan’s capture and detention. Judge Moosa formerly acted for Nelson Mandela, while imprisoned on Robben Island and elsewhere and was involved in the negotiation process in South Africa.
REQUEST FOR AUDIENCE
Unfortunately the delegation was granted neither of the two meetings that was requested. On February 15 the ministry acknowledged receipt of the letter but did not bother to formally accept or reject the request. Beyond that mere acknowledgment, it gave no response at all by the time the delegation left Turkey. The delegation was not afforded an opportunity to engage the Minister of Justice and Öcalan on the question of the resumption of the peace process.
The delegation meanwhile met with representatives from a variety of political and social organizations who briefed us on the country’s most disturbing situation. They also met with lawyers and lawyer’s organizations, who have been deeply involved in the defense of members of the Kurdish freedom movement against criminal charges, and who have themselves been the subject of much intimidation and persecution by the state.
FROM PEACE TO WAR
During the current period of Öcalan’s isolation, from April 2015, the Erdoğan government has shifted from a peace footing to a war footing. The shift from peace-making to war-making has coincided with the total isolation of Öcalan. As he enters the eighteenth year of his detention, he leads a solitary life. Two
other prisoners who were formerly present on Imrali have now been transferred to other high-security prisons. Öcalan’s only human contact is with his guards. Not even his family can visit him. His lawyers, who have not been able to visit him since 2011, apply to visit at least once a week, but they have applied 600 times now and are repeatedly turned down, given absurd excuses that the boat is broken. No one at all has been permitted to visit since the last HDP delegates left on April 5, 2015. No communication from him has been received since then. He is suffering from poor health and his access to medical care is limited.
Meanwhile the situation in the country deteriorated rapidly after the elections and the peace process decisively came to an end. Cities have become war zones, pounded with heavy artillery and tank fire. Children are being killed. People’s parents and grandparents are shot dead in streets, but because of the curfew, their bodies cannot be retrieved for extended periods. Certain police forces are licensed to shoot anyone with full impunity, with no fear of consequences. These Special Forces are not commanded by local governors but are directly linked to the government.
In Cizre, people, many of them civilians who took refuge in three different basements were killed, even burned alive, and now the state is destroying the buildings to eliminate the evidence. Violence against women is on the rise. Women are killed, then stripped and humiliated. These constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. It violates the Third Geneva Convention, to which Turkey is committed and it meets United Nations criteria for genocide.
IMRALI PEACE DELEGATION IN STRASBOURG
The International Peace Delegation continued its work due to the urgency of the situation and decided to visit the most supreme institutions in the Ocalan case. Along with 50 academics that responded to positively to their call, the International Peace Delegation was in Strasbourg between the 18th-22nd of April to meet with the European Council and the CPT. The delegation while joining the continuous vigil that has been ongoing for four years (25 June, 2012) in front of the European Council also conducted meetings with the European Commission’s Cabinet of the General Secretary, political groups of the Parliamentary Assembly, delegations from member countries and the CPT. The delegation made this statement after the meetings:
In the light of circumstances, we, the members of the International Peace Delegation, unanimously resolve as follows:
We call upon the Turkish Government and the Abdullah Öcalan to resume the peace process as a matter of urgency. In December 2012, the Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu as the Chair of the Elders, which was founded by Nelson Mandela, in a personal note to the then Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “Peace is better than War” and appealed to the Prime Minister to resume the peace process with Abdullah Öcalan.
In order for genuine Peace negotiations to take place to resolve the Kurdish issue in Turkey that Abdullah Öcalan, who is a crucial role-player, be released unconditionally from prison, to enable him to take his rightful place at the negotiating table for the lasting resolution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey and for the democratization of Turkey.
We call upon the Turkish Government to level the playing field by, amongst other, legitimizing PKK and other banned organizations, releasing of all political prisoners and permitting exiles to return to the Turkey to participate in the peace process.
We have to lobby our respective governments and non-governmental organizations to put pressure on the Turkish government to resume the peace process as a matter of urgency and in those countries where PKK is listed as a terrorist organization and Abdullah Öcalan is listed as a terrorist that pressure is put on such government to remove them from such list as they are a liberation movement and a freedom fighter in terms of the International Human Rights Instruments.
We call upon the international human rights organizations to investigate, as a matter of urgency, the human rights abuse perpetrated by the Turkish authorities against the civilian population in the areas of conflict and to assess and determine whether such abuses constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and/or contravention of the Geneva Convention.
We call upon the Committee for the Protection against Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Council of Europe (CPT), as a matter of extreme urgency, to visit Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali Island Prison in order investigate the violation of his rights, in terms of the European Convention for the Protection Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as a political prisoner in that (i) his right to have access to his lawyers have been violated for the last 5 years; (ii) his right to have access to members of his family have been violated for the last 14 months; (iii) his right not to be completely isolated from social contact which has been violated for an unknown period; and (iv) his right to have access to medical doctors and/or treatment; and to report urgently on their findings to the Council of Europe, the Turkish government and to Abdullah Öcalan and his lawyers.
We call upon the international academic fraternity to come out in support of the dissident academics in Turkey in the interest of academic freedom and give them moral, material, physical and academic assistance.
We call upon members of our delegation to distribute this Report as widely as possible to head of state, foreign minister, ambassadors, officials, the media, both electronic and print, human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations in our respective countries.
Due to these policies, for many years Öcalan was held in solitary confinement in hazardous conditions on Imrali Island off the coast of Istanbul. His health condition has deteriorated because of the harsh environment of the prison. But despite all his personal difficulties, Öcalan has continued to play a central role in Turkey’s politics, and exerts influence among the Kurdish movement which cannot be ignored. From within his prison cell, through his writings and calls, Öcalan changed the paradigm of the PKK in which he called upon them to seek a democratic political solution to the Kurdish question within the borders of Turkey. He also called upon the PKK’s armed forces to withdraw to a position of self-defence.
Since then, Öcalan and the Kurdish national movement have maintained a consistent stand for a peaceful conclusion to the conflict based on the achievement of justice for the Kurdish people. Through continuous discussions their proposals have evolved into the current demand for “democratic autonomy” inside Turkey, a policy which envisages the granting of local decision-making powers in the regions through political, social and cultural rights, such as the use of the Kurdish language and mother tongue education, thus fulfilling longstanding key Kurdish demands.
As a result of the subsequent internalisation of these calls by the PKK, Öcalan advocated a negotiated settlement by putting forward detailed proposals calling on both sides to take steps to bring about a permanent end to the conflict. He has used his stature among the Kurds to urge repeated unilateral ceasefires on Kurdish guerrillas to give peace a chance which they have repeatedly adopted in the face of continued aggression by the Turkish military.
EFFORTS FOR PEACE AND RESPONSE
The first of these calls for peace was in 1999-2004 when the PKK replied to Öcalan’s call to cease fire, and retreated from Turkey in order to change its strategy. As a result, in 1999 the PKK withdrew all armed forces outside the borders of Turkey. This marked the beginning of a five-year cease-fire, the longest in the history of the conflict. In another surprising move in the same year Öcalan suggested that two “peace groups” consisting of PKK members should return to Turkey, as a sign of readiness for a peaceful solution. The two groups did indeed arrive in Turkey. But the members of the peace envoy were immediately arrested, and now serve long prison terms.
The Turkish state wasted this opportunity for peace talks, and did not respond positively by taking this gesture seriously. When the escalation of violence took over, in 2006-2007, Öcalan again intervened and called for another ceasefire from the PKK, which the PKK again duly obliged but was left unanswered by the Turkish state.
Öcalan’s third call for peace negotiations and a ceasefire came in 2009 when the publicly known ‘Oslo meetings’ was initiated. From 2009 until mid-2011, secret negotiations, later known as the Oslo Process, were held between Öcalan, a government-appointed delegation of the Turkish state and senior PKK members. The subject was a political solution to the Kurdish question. Based on the Road Map to Negotiations, which Öcalan authored in 2009, the parties agreed on three protocols. They contained a phased plan for an end of the conflict and a political solution to the Kurdish issue. Additionally, in 2010, Öcalan called for another peace envoy to enter Turkey. Subsequently, a group of unarmed guerrillas, and a group of refugees from the Mexmûr refugee camp crossed the border from South Kurdistan (Iraq) into Turkey as a symbolic representation of peace and negotiations. Unlike the earlier peace envoy this group was not arrested immediately, creating a false sense of hope and security. The delegation was welcomed ecstatically by Kurds who hoped that “the war had finally ended”.
The Turkish government, however, chose not to implement the plan or engage in discussions, and many members of the peace groups were soon arrested and imprisoned. Due to the escalation of violence after July 2011, Öcalan once again responded to calls by social movements to call for another ceasefire and started a new negotiation process, the so-called ‘Imrali Process’, in early 2013. Finally, this latest most significant attempt was once again halted by President Erdogan when he realised that the process was becoming successful in March, 2015, leading him to state that “there is no negotiating table, no Kurdish question and peace process”. With this statement all hope for a continued peace process were eradicated.
IMPACT ON THE MIDDLE EAST
Abdullah Öcalan is best known as the living symbol for the struggle of the Kurdish people for recognition and self-determination. The continued systematic denial of these rights has paved the way for numerous massacres and genocidal attacks on Kurdish populations in different countries. Resistances against these attacks have resulted in armed conflicts which have contributed to the overall instability in the Middle East. During more than four decades, Öcalan has made a tremendous effort to transform the conflict from an armed struggle into a political one. Through his continuous efforts, now for the first time in decades, a political solution seems to be within reach.
In a political atmosphere in the Middle East that increasingly dictates national or religious uniformity and oppression of women’s rights, over the last 20 years Öcalan has developed a political philosophy that stands for the implementation of an alternative vision of society. His ideology for peace advocates equal rights for people of all nationalities and beliefs and –especially – the practical recognition of woman’s rights and freedoms in all areas of society. This paradigm has proven to be influential and a source of hope for many groups. Policies that follow his approach have helped to keep the Rojava Kurdish region of Syria peaceful and stable, while most of Syria sank into chaos, which inspired several long-lasting ceasefires and a promising dialogue between two former staunch enemies: the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
In Rojava, the inclusion of all ethnic and religious groups like Assyrian, Syriac and Chaldean Christians into the canton administrations came about due to Öcalan’s advocacy and repeated calls for this model. In his writings and statements, Öcalan argues for an inclusive approach and has managed to influence political leaders, Kurdish and non-Kurdish, in the relevant region.
This made the rescue of the Yezidi-Kurds` possible, contributed immensely to the relatively peaceful development of the region amidst the turmoil of the Syrian civil war and serves as a model for the future of Syria and the Middle East in General. This paradigm of Mr. Öcalan has been adopted by the Kurdish movement in Syria who have been in a tense war against ISIL since 2013.
The Kurdish movement in Syria has applied this paradigm in the liberated areas and have proven to be the most effective force against ISIL barbarism. The success of the Kurdish movement in Syria, not only in the fight against ISIL terrorism, but also for an inclusive model of coexistence between long mistrustful ethnic and religious groups is reliant on the ideas and paradigm of Mr. Öcalan. The efforts of Abdullah Öcalan for peace and democracy has not only been welcomed by the Kurds in Turkey but especially the other ethnic-religious groups in Syria fighting ISIL. The model of inclusive coexistence has served and can serve, as a powerful tool for peace, stability and prosperity for the peoples of the region. ISOLATION Abdullah Öcalan last had access to his legal team on 27 July 2011. Since then, Öcalan has been cut off from the outside world. Neither family members nor lawyers are allowed to visit. Telephone calls or written communication are also not possible. Even in Turkish law – which is not at all flexible on political prisoners – there is no legal basis for this total and inhumane isolation. Weekly unconvincing excuses, such as a defective vessel or bad weather, are cited to prevent the due visits occurring. However, Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as Minister of Justice S. Ergin, have both stated publicly that it is the government who blocks every visit. Without a doubt, the prevention of Öcalan from having access to his legal
team or the peace delegation is a deliberate policy by the AKP government to silence the most powerful Kurdish voice for a peace process, democracy and human rights in Turkey and the region. This deliberate isolation also demonstrates the complete arbitrariness of the AKP government whose representatives publicly defend breaches of the law where Kurdish matters are concerned. Another scandalous and illegal development was the detention of Öcalan’s complete defence team of 36 lawyers who have been in jail for more than half a year now. The real scandal however is the silence of foreign countries. The European Convention on Human Rights is valid in 47 states. For over 40 million Kurds, it seems, it is not. At least not for Abdullah Öcalan. The Council of Europe delegates the responsibility for the appalling prison conditions on Imrali Island to the powerless anti-torture committee (CPT) and otherwise deliberately still ignores the matter. Even the much-appraised European Court for Human Rights has so far not been able to determine the facts and conditions of isolation. Turkey, it seems is not constrained by international human rights laws or conventions. The Kurds and their friends have repeatedly resorted to public and mass protests to show their support for Öcalan, and their rejection of the Turkish government’s anti-democratic and anti-human rights policies towards the Kurds. There have also been many campaigns launched for Öcalan’s freedom. In a signature campaign conducted in 2005-2006, around 3.5 million people from all parts of Kurdistan signed a statement affirming that they regard Öcalan as their political leader. On September 6, 2012, a second signature campaign began, demanding “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan and other political prisoners in Turkey.” The signatories state that “Öcalan’s freedom will mark a breakthrough for the democratization of Turkey and peace in Kurdistan.” The campaign began in Brussels, and subsequently 10, 321 million signatures were gathered. The number of signatures was remarkable considering that the campaign was conducted under immense restrictions— Turkey, Syria, and Iran declared it illegal. Hundreds of people were convicted and sentenced to several years in prison.
ISOLATION: FACTS AND FIGURES
In the 16 years of Öcalan’s imprisonment his family and legal team have always been hindered from visiting him. Mr Öcalan was allowed to meet with his lawyers once a week for one hour, although even this right was never consistently implemented. However, since the 27th of July, 2011, Öcalan has been prevented from meeting with his lawyers.
Mr Öcalan was previously allowed to meet with his family once a week for one hour. In June 2005 this was reduced to one hour once in two weeks. However, this has come to a complete stop since October of 2014.
These are the figures for applications made by Abdullah Öcalan’s family and lawyers since the 27th of July, 2011:
From the 27th of July, 2011, to the end of that year, of the 43 applications by Mr Öcalan’s lawyers to meet him none were permitted (17 rejected due to bad weather conditions, 23 rejected due to broken down ferry and 2 rejected due to official holidays).
Throughout the year of 2012 of the 104 applications by Mr Öcalan’s lawyers to meet him none were permitted (14 rejected due to bad weather conditions, 73 rejected due to broken down ferry, 16 due to repair of ferry and 1 rejected due to official holidays).
Throughout the year of 2013 of the 102 applications by Mr Öcalan’s lawyers to meet him none were permitted (12 rejected due to bad weather conditions, 86 rejected due to broken down ferry and 4 rejected due to official holidays).
Throughout the year of 2014 of the 104 applications by Mr Öcalan’s lawyers to meet him none were permitted (9 rejected due to bad weather conditions, 86 rejected due to broken down ferry, 6 due to repair of ferry and 3 rejected due to official holidays).
Throughout the year of 2015 of the 56 applications by Mr Öcalan’s lawyers to meet him none were permitted (5 rejected due to bad weather conditions, 27 rejected due to broken down ferry and 24 due to repair of ferry).
Needless to say, all of the reasons given above are clear violations of Öcalan’s human rights as a political prisoner and in direct breach of international legal norms and values. Nothing has been done since by the Turkish government and the international community and major organizations to address this violation, which not only limits the human rights of Öcalan but also silences the needs of millions of Kurds who rely on Öcalan as the voice for their human rights, calls for peace and democracy. To silence Öcalan is to silence the Kurds and their basic and fundamental human rights.
THE REALITY IN TURKEY AND THE ONLY WAY FOR PEACE
Turkish context Öcalan’s total isolation is politically thoughtless. It was Öcalan who was able to urge the Kurdish guerilla to adhere to several cease-fires. No one else is capable of exerting such an influence on the Kurdish forces. His constructive proposals for a political solution, laid out in his Road Map, formed the basis of the 3-year negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. A solution to the conflict was within grasp; However, Recep Tayyip Erdogan stopped the negotiations abruptly and stepped up the attacks against Kurdish civil society.
This sudden change in policy by the AKP government solved none of the existing and ongoing problems, but instead created new ones. The clashes between Kurdish guerillas and the Turkish army have rekindled, the situation seems ever more complex and a solution for peace even more out of reach. But even Erdogan will have to realize that the Kurdish issue can only be solved through dialogue and through concrete steps to accept the human rights of ethnic and religious groups in Turkey. With the rise of popular political parties such as HDP, which recently gained a historical win in the Turkish parliament, the democratic call of the people of Turkey for peace, for democratization, for political reforms, gender equality and human rights is increasing. It is essential that the Turkish government resumes negotiations to prevent further bloodshed.
Öcalan’s actions throughout the last years have proven that the Kurdish leader is able to play a balancing role regarding Turkish and Kurdish interests. This balance is the precondition for a lasting and legitimate peace. The ball is now in the Turkish government’s court to put things on track.
Abdullah Öcalan’s release, as a vital contribution to the solution of the conflict, is therefore inevitable. To continue to silence and isolate Öcalan is to continue to ignore the Kurdish question in Turkey, and to fail to take concrete steps towards political reforms and democratization. To fail to address this issue humanly and according to international legal norms and values is to highlight that Turkey has no intention to uphold universal human rights.
“Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan” signature campaign
I support the demand “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan and the political prisoners in Turkey”.
Öcalan’s freedom will mark a breakthrough for the democratisation of Turkey and peace in Kurdistan.
Name & surname (block letters)
Profession / organisation
Please return to: International Initiative, P.O. Box 100511, D-50445 Cologne | http://www.freeocalan.org
EXTRACTS FROM The Democratic Solution to the Syrian Conflict.
“Considering the huge number of complex problems that it faces, Syria requires a radical solution that addresses not only the symptoms but also the causes, lest reaction reemerge.
Foundations Of The Democratic Solution
“The Democratic Self-Administration is the tangible expression of the democratic solution in the context of solving all ethnic issues, including the Kurdish issue. The traditional approach was to try to get a share in the Syrian state, or form semi-independent ethnic states, or create a federal state or confederation. However, the first demand of a democratic Syria is that it recognize the rights of all ethnic and religious groups to manage themselves according to their own free will, and to put no obstacles on the path of becoming a national democratic society. It must affirm the democratic the right of peoples to self-determination. Democracy and the state can play their roles under the same political roof, and the democratic constitution sets the boundaries between their spheres of influence.”
“Building a democratic Syria requires ridding it of the concept of central state authority, which has led it to the brink of destruction, and democratizing the social structure.”
“Furthermore, in Syria’s democratic solution, the individual becomes a citizen within the framework of constitutional citizenship, while also being a free individual in his democratic society. So too the constituent peoples retain their democratic social identity in the framework of constitutional citizenship.
In the Democratic Nation, those rights will be guaranteed in a constitution, including a right to semi-democratic independence. Thus, all of Syria’s genuine social constituents can have the character of free individual in a democratic community along with the constitutional citizenship of the mother state, interactively and synchronously. In other words, citizenship will be bilateral and dual.”
“No social entity can exist without having its own administration. In Syria we must provide for the cultural diversity of the constituent peoples at all levels and in all directions, reserving the Syrian state as a “special” reality. We must emphasize a sort of independence and freedom for all the peoples, identities, and affiliations while retaining the democratic central entity. This is possible only through a combination of centralization and decentralization, because Syria is the country of constituent peoples, all of whom must be allowed to enjoy their rights fully.”
“The role of the center should be to the benefit the parties, and the powers of the central authorities should be reduced in favor of local self-administrations.”
“In other words, centralization will overlap with decentralization, allowing the constituent peoples to appear, develop their identities, and express themselves. Surely, the new administrative divisions must be commensurate with the distribution of constituent peoples and identities. In each one, each part will be represented in the self-administration. Decentralization will guarantee both centralization and common life, because the common citizenship will be a mental and practical expression of the free administration of all members of any group.”
“The economic system of the Democratic Nation and the Democratic Self- Administration stops this barbaric practice and works to restore community control over the economy, and at the lowest levels to reconcile the state and self-administrations. So the semi-independent economy basically works under the ecological industry and the commune economy as a reflection of democracy. The semi-independent economy accepts markets and trade but does not allow the economy to achieve profit for the accumulation of capital.”
“In the democratic solution, the Democratic Nation is based on social morality more than on law. It meets the need to develop lawful organizations and organizes the community according to ethical standards for the positive application of rights and constitutions.”
Foundations of Self-Defense
“In the democratic solution, the democratic constitution will organize the work of the defense establishment. Inside the country, the society should build community and civil society institutions in all areas, despite possible exposure to attacks on anything from language to economy, security, etc. An organizational structure on all these levels is needed to enable the society to defend its essential elements. In the Democratic Nation, all civil society organizations, as a means of protection and development, will organize defense institutions, including the military and security forces, in accordance with the established format for the democratic homeland, which we aim to build from self-willed institutions.”
“The system will defend the nation as a whole, represented by the state and the relevant public institutions. Here, it is necessary to regulate the relationship between state institutions, insofar as they are national, and the local institutions of decentralized Syria. Syria should be divided administratively, and each province or administrative region can and should form its own forces. But it does so without compromising the unity of the homeland and its centrality; at one level, centralization and decentralization will merge harmoniously.”
“By constitutional guarantee, Syria will be common homeland of all religions, creeds, languages, beliefs, who will all coexist. In short, ours is a democratic cultural revolution of multilateralism against unilateralism, of expression rather than denial. The revolution will adopt all the authentic languages as official languages. It will enable citizens to learn and teach one another’s languages, opening linguistic and cultural academies and cultural centers.”
“The units of the Democratic Self-Administration can maintain diplomatic relations with other units provided they respect the laws and the constitution of the center.
The Syria of the Future
“Decentralizing Syria does not mean canceling the center entirely; rather, the functions of the center will shift from controlling to coordinating and unifying the parts that make up the whole, while retaining the essential functions of the overall strategy. In the Syrian Republic, the state must stand equidistant to cultures, religions, and languages. Separating religion and state will be one mission to secure the atmosphere of democracy, so that no religious constituents of the community control or marginalize any of the others. The new administrative divisions must accord with scientific criteria that take into account the fact of Syria’s cultural diversity, after getting rid of the mentality that dominated the country during the previous decades.”
“No democracy can exist in Syria unless self-administrations have been established to solve its problems democratically.”
“All the constituent peoples in the Syrian community— Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, and Turkmen, as well as Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis—cross boundaries: that is, the lands where they live do not begin or end at the state borders. This diversity will foster correct and healthy relations with neighboring countries, and it will also form a fertile ground for the construction of democratic confederal relationships that will spread in the Middle East, one that inherently rejects ethnic and religious nationalism as well as the nation-state.”
(This report is not specifically about Rojava, but concerns a directly related struggle)
Final Declaration of the First Conference of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, April 23-24, 2016, in Wan (Van), North Kurdistan
On April 23 and 24, 2016, the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement (MEM) held its first conference in the city of Wan (Van). One hundred delegates participated, coming from the provinces Amed (Diyarbakir), Dîlok (Gaziantep), Riha (Sanliurfa), Merdîn, Muş, Wan, Elih (Batman), Siirt, Dersîm, and Bedlîs (Bitlis) in Turkey.
Activists from the following movements and groups also participated: Gaya magazine, Anti Nuclear Platform, Green Resistance, Green Newspaper, Green and Left Party, Black Sea in Rebellion, Defense of North Forests, Water Rights Campaign, and Dersîm-Ovacik Municipality; and from the German group International Coordination of Revolutionary Parties and Organizations (ICOR) and the East Kurdistan group Green Chiya.
In addition, representatives of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), Free Women of Kurdistan (KJA), Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK), and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were present. Taken together, a total of 170 people joined the first large gathering of the MEM assembled since its founding.
The conference was organized during a period of intensive political struggle on the part of people in Kurdistan for freedom and self-governance, a struggle that may significantly change the future of the region but that also demands many victims.
Based on the trinity of city, class, and state and using the method of domination–capital accumulation, capitalist modernity creates a suffocating and unproductive society even as it presents nature with every kind of destruction. On behalf of the existing hegemonic system, the nation-state und its governments disperse the solidaristic character of society and instead impose unemployment, poverty, unhealthy nourishment via industrial agriculture and GMOs, and the cultural-social devastation on the people. Huge destructive projects like the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), the Ilisu Dam, the Munzur dams, Green Way, and Cerattepe Mining and Kanal Istanbul have been developed with the aim of clearing forests for construction, commercializing the waters, commodifying the land, controlling nature and people, and promoting the consumption of fossil fuels, all of which alienates people from original nature and from social life.
Currently, the ruling regime in Turkey is carrying out a campaign of brutality in Kurdistan that is incomparable in the recent history of the Middle East. In a new, perfidious dimension, it has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people from Sur, Nusaybin, Hezex, Kerboran, Farqin, Şırnak, Gever, Silopi, and Cizre, cities that are systematically being destroyed. Yet the international public remains silent on the destruction of nature and cities and on all the massacres of people.
The nation-state’s monist and denialist mentality and capitalist modernity’s unlimited profit-, competition-, and domination-seeking character have brought the world to its current grave state. Social disasters become ecological disasters, and vice versa. Society and humanity must put a stop to this development, for if it continues, we will reach the point where a turnaround is no longer possible. Therefore the mobilization of an ecological resistance is crucially important.
Despite the mentality and practices of destruction, a turnaround is possible. To achive it, we must mobilize the ecological struggle against wars and against the numerous dams, coal plants, and mines that are poised to eliminate our life-areas and our cultural and social values. We have to spread the ecological struggle using the maxim “Communalize our land, waters, and energy and set up a free, democratic life.” We must defend the democratic nation against the nation-state; the communal economy against capitalism, with its quick-profit-seeking logic and monopolism and large industries; organic agriculture, ecological villages and cities, ecological industry, and alternative energy and technology against the agricultural and energy policies imposed by capitalist modernity.
Since the ecological struggle is the touchstone for the liberation of all humanity, every action may bring us closer to a free individual and a free society. Our struggle to reach our natural and societal truth, the fundamental justification of our existence, is an important contribution to the liberation of people and nature on our planet. With great excitement, which we feel deeply, we assume our role in this struggle.
Our paradigm, which heralds a bright age in the twenty-first century and coming millennia, is a radical democratic, communal, ecological, women-liberated society. The ecological struggle goes beyond any single struggle to encompass the vital essence of the free life paradigm. Without ecology, society cannot exist, and without humanity and nature, ecology cannot exist. Ecology, as the essence and self of the millennia-old universal dialectic of formation, interweaves all interconnected natural processes as like the rings of a chain.
The struggle against capitalist modernity is the struggle to develop a democratic, social, and liberatory mindset, and the struggle against state-sovereignty is the struggle to become a social subject. This can develop only through a social movement, through a struggle for freedom that takes a stand against the system that jeopardizes nature, society, and the individual in the interests of capitalist profit and state hegemony.
In the Middle East, the history of ecology has not yet been written. To achieve the liberation of women, it has been necessary to learn the history of woman; just so, to achieve an ecological society, it is necessary to know the history of ecology. By opening up ecology academies, we can bring ecological consciousness as an essential component to programs of study in all social spheres and all academic curricula. Bringing ecological consciousness and sensibility to the organized social sphere and to educational institutions is as vital as organizing our own assemblies.
In relation to the construction of a democratic and ecological society, our conference passed several important resolutions that we hope will constitute an intellectual, organizational, and operational contribution for the global ecological movements. Some of the resolutions are:
– To establish a strategic intellectual, organizational, and operational coordination with national and international ecology movements in order to enhance common discussions and actions against ecological destruction and exploitation.
– To struggle against the mental, physical, and ideological destruction of energy, water, forests, soil, cities, agriculture seeds, and technology; and based on the approved policies of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, to mobilize a struggle for the construction of a new life.
– To fight the system that demolishes urban settlements and burns forests in Kurdistan; to publicize the ecological devastation experienced in Kurdistan and to map the devastations occurring within the war.
– To plan actions, in coordination with other ecology movements, against the destruction of cities in Kurdistan; to ensure our active participation in solidarity platforms that have been established in these cities.
– To continue struggles to preserve cultural and natural sites in Kurdistan that face extinction—such as Hasankeyf, Diyarbakır-Sur, the Munzur Valley, and “Gele Goderne”—due to the energy and security policies.
– To develop an ecological model suitable for Kurdistan.
– To build a greater and more regular presence in print and digital media and to establish ecology academies.
– To carry out legal struggles parallel to ongoing actions and campaigns.
-To expand the own organizational structures throughout Kurdistan and Middle East.
Lightly edited by Janet Biehl. If your group would like to connect with the MEM, please write to email@example.com.
DECLARATION OF THE ROJAVA-NORTH SYRIA DEMOCRATIC FEDERAL SYSTEM
17 March 2016
The meeting of the Constituent Assembly for the establishment of the Rojava-Northern Syria Democratic Federal System has ended with the final declaration being read.
The two-day meeting held in the Rimelan town of Girkê Legê (Al-Muabbada) ended today, 17 March.
Attended by 31 parties and 200 delegates representing Rojava’s Kobane, Afrin and Cizire cantons and the Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, Syriac, Armenian, Turkmen and Chechen peoples of Girê Spî (Tal Abyad), Shaddadi, Aleppo and Shehba regions, the meeting was followed by a press statement attended by all components.
The final declaration was read in Arabic by the Rojava-North Syria Democratic Federal System Constituent Assembly co-president Mensur El-Selum.
The declaration is as follows:
To the Syrian, regional, and global public.
In response to the appeal made by the General Coordination of Democratic Self-Administration Areas (Cizire, Kobane and Afrin), all components of the political forces, parties, and social actors in the cantons of Rojava and the areas liberated from terrorist forces held a meeting resulting in a comprehensive political vision for a Syrian resolution and an agreement on the management system for Rojava/Northern Syria. This can serve as a model for the rest of Syria, providing a solution for the Syrian crisis. We, the representatives of these areas, met on 16th and 17th March 2016.
We commemorate with respect the martyrs of our people, who wrote with their blood the heroic resistance that has brought our people to the milestone they are at today.
This aforementioned meeting resulted in the following decisions.
1. The democratic federal system encapsulates all social components and guarantees that a future Syria will be for all Syrians.
2. All work will be towards establishing a democratic federal system for Rojava/Northern Syria.
3. Co-presidents and a 31-person Organising Council were elected.
4. The Organising Council was assigned to prepare a social contract and a comprehensive political and legal vision for this system within a period not exceeding six months.
5. All assembly committees and documents will adhere to UN resolutions on human rights and societal democratic systems. Furthermore, all attendees of the meeting see themselves as part of the new system being constructed and are aware of the deep ties it has with the people of Syria; they predicate their participation on the fraternity of peoples and peace.
6. Women’s freedom is the essence of the federal democratic system. Women have the right to equal participation and in decision-related responsibilities in relation to female issues. Women will be represented as equals in all spheres of life, including all social and political spheres.
7. The peoples and communities living in the federal system in Rojava/Northern Syria can develop their political, economic, social, cultural, and democratic relations with whom they see fit, or share their beliefs and culture with the people and communities on a regional and international level, provided that this relationship does not interfere with the objectives and interests of the federal democratic system.
8. The peoples of regions liberated by the democratic forces from terrorist organisations will have the right to become a part of the federal democratic system of Rojava-Northern Syria, if they so choose.
9. The goal of the Rojava/Northern Syria democratic federal system on the regional level is to achieve democratic union between all the peoples of the Middle East in the political, economic, cultural and social spheres and transcend national state borders to create a secure, peaceful and fraternal life for all.
10. The creation of a federal and democratic system shall take place within a sovereign Syria.
To all people in Syria, Kurdistan and Rojava and all groups and social classes.
We are going through a historical phase and critical circumstances. Today, Syria is experiencing the worst tragedy in its history. Millions have been displaced and hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, not to mention the immense damage that the infrastructure of Syria has suffered.
In spite of this, a democratic experience has been created and defended in Rojava with the blood of martyrs. Great gains have been achieved in this period. This is a real opportunity to build a federal democratic system. We are sure and confident that this will be a model for a solution to the Syrian crisis.
In the framework of the decisions we have taken, we are calling foremostly on women who represent a new and free life, as well as young people, communities, workers and all other social sectors to join in the construction of a democratic federal system. We are also calling on all progressive humanity and democratic forces to support our efforts.
Long live our people’s determination, their coexistence, and their unity.
Constituent Assembly for the establishment of a Federal Democratic Rojava/Northern Syria.
Here is a letter I wote to the Huddersfield Examiner, which was printed on 2 December 2015, the day of the House of Commons debate on military action in Syria.
The downing of a Russian plane by Turkey clearly shows the potential for a sudden and unpredictable escalation of the current conflict in Syria. In these circumstances Jeremy Corbyn is quite right not to give the UK government a blank cheque to bomb the country. Without a coherent policy clarifying who is the target of the bombing, on whose behalf it is to be carried out and what post-war political solution for Syria is envisaged, this can only lead to another disastrous debacle like we have seen in Iraq and Libya.
Mr Cameron has claimed that there are 75,000 moderate opposition fighters without identifying who they are, who they are opposed to, or what kind of Syria they want to create. Meanwhile the Kurdish led Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) , the only forces who have a clear political vision, based on a democratic, non-sectarian, multi-ethnic Syria , are treated with disdain by the UK government. The YPG’s links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are used as an excuse to sideline the only effective forces in Syria because the PKK is categorised as a ‘terrorist organisation’. This classification is not because the PKK actually is a terrorist organisation, or poses any threat to civilians, but simply to appease the Turkish government which continues to deny rights to its Kurdish population. The consequences of this absurd policy were shown only last week when a young woman was gaoled in London because she wished to fight with Kurdish forces AGAINST the Daish (Islamic State).
Since the YPG and its allies constitute the only viable force in Syria able to counter the Daish, a coherent policy of intervention in the form of aerial bombing would have to focus on supporting these forces. This cannot be done by the strategic bombing of cities like Raqqa, where the Daish are embedded in the civilian population and which would result in high civilian casualties that would only feed the Daish propaganda machine.
Britain should not become involved in the Syrian conflict unless its role is restricted to providing tactical support on the battlefield for the Syrian Democratic Forces led by the YPG. Bombing front-line troop positions, command and control centres, or supply lines in liaison with the YPG could prove successful, as it did with US air support for the Kurds in the siege of Kobani. However, the question remains whether the UK could make a meaningful contribution. It also raises the spectre of ‘mission creep’ whereby tactical bombing would lead to a widening of targets which would kill civilians.
Since the French, Americans , Russians and some Arab states are already involved in Syria, Britain’s minor contribution to the war effort has little military significance. Rather Cameron , in a Blair moment, wants to appear that he is doing something, anything, so he can appear to be a world leader. He also believes that by taking part in the war the UK will have a say in the post war carve-up of Syria, because that is what it will become. There is also a large dose of hypocrisy in the UK and NATO supporting Turkey and Saudi Arabia in their efforts to overthrow Assad , when both countries have been implicated in support for the Daish.
The best thing the UK government can do is focus on giving vital equipment and expertise to the Kurds of Rojava (Northern Syria) so they can both more effectively fight the Daish and rebuild their devastated country. That is the only way the UK can support the real democratic forces in Syria without becoming embroiled in a quagmire beneficial neither to the people of Syria, or the UK.
LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS
Vol 38 No 5 3 Mar 2016
End Times for the Caliphate?
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The war in Syria and Iraq has produced two new de facto states in the last five years and enabled a third quasi-state greatly to expand its territory and power. The two new states, though unrecognised internationally, are stronger militarily and politically than most members of the UN. One is the Islamic State, which established its caliphate in eastern Syria and western Iraq in the summer of 2014 after capturing Mosul and defeating the Iraqi army. The second is Rojava, as the Syrian Kurds call the area they gained control of when the Syrian army largely withdrew in 2012, and which now, thanks to a series of victories over IS, stretches across northern Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates. In Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), already highly autonomous, took advantage of IS’s destruction of Baghdad’s authority in northern Iraq to expand its territory by 40 per cent, taking over areas long disputed between itself and Baghdad, including the Kirkuk oilfields and some mixed Kurdish-Arab districts.
The question is whether these radical changes in the political geography of the Middle East will persist – or to what extent they will persist – when the present conflict is over. The Islamic State is likely to be destroyed eventually, such is the pressure from its disunited but numerous enemies, though its adherents will remain a force in Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Islamic world. The Kurds are in a stronger position, benefiting as they do from US support, but that support exists only because they provide some 120,000 ground troops which, in co-operation with the US-led coalition air forces, have proved an effective and politically acceptable counter to IS. The Kurds fear that this support will evaporate if and when IS is defeated and they will be left to the mercy of resurgent central governments in Iraq and Syria as well as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. ‘We don’t want to be used as cannon fodder to take Raqqa,’ a Syrian Kurdish leader in Rojava told me last year. I heard the same thing this month five hundred miles to the east, in KRG territory near Halabja on the Iranian border, from Muhammad Haji Mahmud, a veteran Peshmerga commander and general secretary of the Socialist Party, who led one thousand fighters to defend Kirkuk from IS in 2014. His son Atta was killed in the battle. He said he worried that ‘once Mosul is liberated and IS defeated, the Kurds won’t have the same value internationally.’ Without this support, the KRG would be unable to hold onto its disputed territories.
The rise of the Kurdish states isn’t welcomed by any country in the region, though some – including the governments in Baghdad and Damascus – have found the development to be temporarily in their interest and are in any case too weak to resist it. But Turkey has been appalled to find that the Syrian uprising of 2011, which it hoped would usher in an era of Turkish influence spreading across the Middle East, has instead produced a Kurdish state that controls half of the Syrian side of Turkey’s 550-mile southern border. Worse, the ruling party in Rojava is the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which in all but name is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), against which Ankara has been fighting a guerrilla war since 1984. The PYD denies the link, but in every PYD office there is a picture on the wall of the PKK’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who has been in a Turkish prison since 1999. In the year since IS was finally defeated in the siege of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani, Rojava has expanded territorially in every direction as its leaders repeatedly ignore Turkish threats of military action against them. Last June, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) captured Tal Abyad, an important crossing point on the Turkish border north of Raqqa, allowing the PYD to link up two of its three main enclaves, around the cities of Kobani and Qamishli; it is now trying to reach the third enclave, further west, at Afrin. These swift advances are possible only because the Kurdish forces are operating under a US-led air umbrella that vastly multiplies their firepower. I was just east of Tal Abyad shortly before the final YPG attack and coalition aircraft roared continuously overhead. In both Syria and Iraq, the Kurds identify targets, call in air strikes and then act as a mopping-up force. Where IS stands and fights it suffers heavy casualties. In the siege of Kobani, which lasted for four and half months, 2200 IS fighters were killed, most of them by US air strikes.
Ankara has warned several times that if the Kurds move west towards Afrin the Turkish army will intervene. In particular, it stipulated that the YPG must not cross the Euphrates: this was a ‘red line’ for Turkey. But when in December the YPG sent its Arab proxy militia, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), across the Euphrates at the Tishrin Dam, the Turks did nothing – partly because the advance was supported at different points by both American and Russian air strikes on IS targets. Turkish objections have become increasingly frantic since the start of the year because the YPG and the Syrian army, though their active collaboration is unproven, have launched what amounts to a pincer movement on the most important supply lines of the IS and non-IS opposition, which run down a narrow corridor between the Turkish border and Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city. On 2 February the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes, cut the main road link towards Aleppo and a week later the SDF captured Menagh airbase from the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front, which Turkey has been accused of covertly supporting in the past. On 14 February, Turkish artillery started firing shells at the forces that had captured the base and demanded that they evacuate it. The complex combination of militias, armies and ethnic groups struggling to control this small but vital area north of Aleppo makes the fighting there confusing even by Syrian standards. But if the opposition is cut off from Turkey for long it will be seriously and perhaps fatally weakened. The Sunni states – notably Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – will have failed in their long campaign to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Turkey will be faced with the prospect of a hostile PKK-run statelet along its southern flank, making it much harder for it to quell the low-level but long-running PKK-led insurgency among its own 17 million Kurdish minority.
Erdoğan is said to have wanted Turkey to intervene militarily in Syria since May last year, but until now he has been restrained by his army commanders. They argued that Turkey would be entering a highly complicated war in which it would be opposed by the US, Russia, Iran, the Syrian army, the PYD and IS while its only allies would be Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf monarchies. Entry into the Syrian war would certainly be a tremendous risk for Turkey, which, despite all its thunderous denunciations of the PYD and YPG as ‘terrorists’, has largely confined itself to small acts of sometimes vindictive retaliation. Ersin Umut Güler, a Turkish Kurd actor and director in Istanbul, was refused permission to bring home for burial the body of his brother Aziz, who had been killed fighting IS in Syria. Before he stepped on a landmine, Aziz had been with the YPG, but he was a Turkish citizen and belonged to a radical socialist Turkish party – not the PKK. ‘It’s like something out of Antigone,’ Ersin said. His father had travelled to Syria and was refusing to return without the body, but the authorities weren’t relenting.
The Turkish response to the rise of Rojava is belligerent in tone but ambivalent in practice. On one day a minister threatens a full-scale ground invasion and on the next another official rules it out or makes it conditional on US participation, which is unlikely. Turkey blamed a car bomb in Ankara that killed 28 people on 17 February on the YPG, which must increase the chances of intervention, but in the recent past Turkish actions have been disjointed and counterproductive. When on 24 November a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian bomber in what appears to have been a carefully planned attack, the predictable result was that Russia sent sophisticated fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft missile systems to establish air supremacy over northern Syria. This means that if Turkey were to launch a ground invasion, it would have to do so without air cover and its troops would be exposed to bombing by Russian and Syrian planes. Many Kurdish political leaders argue that a Turkish military invasion is unlikely: Fuad Hussein, the KRG’s president’s chief of staff, told me in Erbil last month that ‘if Turkey was going to intervene then it would have done so before shooting down the Russian jet’ – though this assumes, of course, that Turkey knows how to act in its own best interests. He argued that the conflict would be decided by two factors: who is winning on the battlefield and the co-operation between the US and Russia. ‘If the crisis is to be solved,’ he said, ‘it will be solved by agreement between the superpowers’ – and in the Middle East at least Russia has regained superpower status. A new loose alliance between the US and Russia, though interrupted by bouts of Cold War-style rivalry, produced an agreement in Munich on 12 February for aid to be delivered to besieged Syrian towns and cities and a ‘cessation of hostilities’ to be followed by a more formal ceasefire. A de-escalation of the crisis will be difficult to orchestrate, but the fact that the US and Russia are co-chairing a taskforce overseeing it shows the extent to which they are displacing local and regional powers as the decision-makers in Syria.
For the Kurds in Rojava and KRG territory this is a testing moment: if the war ends their newly won power could quickly slip away. They are, after all, only small states – the KRG has a population of about six million and Rojava 2.2 million – surrounded by much larger ones. And their economies are barely floating wrecks. Rojava is well organised but blockaded on all sides and unable to sell much of its oil. Seventy per cent of the buildings in Kobani were pulverised by US bombing. People have fled from cities like Hasaka that are close to the frontline. The KRG’s economic problems are grave and probably insoluble unless there is an unexpected rise in the price of oil. Three years ago, it advertised itself as ‘the new Dubai’, a trading hub and oil state with revenues sufficient to make it independent of Baghdad. When the oil boom peaked in 2013, the newly built luxury hotels in Erbil were packed with foreign trade delegations and businessmen. Today the hotels and malls are empty and Iraqi Kurdistan is full of half-built hotels and apartment buildings.
The end of the KRG boom has been a devastating shock for the population, many of whom are trying to migrate to Western Europe. There are frequent memorial prayers in mosques for those who have drowned in the Aegean crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands. The state’s oil revenues now stand at about $400 million a month; expenditure is $1.1 billion, so few of the 740,000 government employees are being paid. In desperation, the government has seized money from the banks. ‘My mother went to her bank where she thought she had $20,000,’ Nazdar Ibrahim, an economist at Salahaddin University in Erbil, told me. ‘They said: “We don’t have your money because the government has taken it.” Nobody is putting money in the banks and it is destroying the banking system.’
The KRG promoted itself as a ‘different Iraq’, and so, in some respects, it is: it’s much safer to live in than Baghdad or Basra. Though Mosul isn’t far away, there have been few bomb attacks or kidnappings in Iraqi Kurdistan compared to elsewhere in the country. But the KRG is an oil state that depends wholly on oil revenues. The region produces almost nothing else: even the vegetables in the markets are imported from Turkey and Iran and prices are high. Nazdar Ibrahim said that clothes she could buy in Turkey for $10 cost three times as much at home; Iraqi Kurdistan, she suggested, was as expensive to live in as Norway or Switzerland. The KRG’s president, Massoud Barzani, has declared he will hold a referendum on Kurdish independence, but this is not an attractive option at a time of general economic ruin. Asos Hardi, the editor of a newspaper in Sulaymaniyah, says protests are spreading and in any case ‘even at the height of the boom there was popular anger at the clientism and corruption.’ The Iraqi Kurdish state – far from becoming more independent – is being forced to look to outside powers, including Baghdad, to save it from further economic collapse.
Similar things are happening elsewhere in the region: people who have been smuggled out of Mosul say that the caliphate is buckling under military and economic pressure. Its enemies have captured Sinjar, Ramadi and Tikrit in Iraq and the YPG and the Syrian army are driving it back in Syria and are closing in on Raqqa. The ground forces attacking IS – the YPG, the Syrian army, Iraqi armed forces and Peshmerga – are all short of manpower (in the struggle for Ramadi the Iraqi military assault force numbered only 500 men), but they can call in devastating air strikes on any IS position. Since it was defeated at Kobani, IS has avoided set-piece battles and has not fought to the last man to defend any of its cities, though it has considered doing so in Raqqa and Mosul. The Pentagon, the Iraqi government and the Kurds exaggerate the extent of their victories over IS, but it is taking heavy losses and is isolated from the outside world with the loss of its last link to Turkey. The administrative and economic infrastructure of the caliphate is beginning to break under the strain of bombing and blockade. This is the impression given by people who left Mosul in early February and took refuge in Rojava.
Their journey wasn’t easy, since IS prohibits people from leaving the caliphate – it doesn’t want a mass exodus. Those who have got out report that IS is becoming more violent in enforcing fatwas and religious regulations. Ahmad, a 35-year-old trader from the al-Zuhour district of Mosul, where he owns a small shop, reported that ‘if somebody is caught who has shaved off his beard, he is given thirty lashes, while last year they would just arrest him for a few hours.’ The treatment of women in particular has got worse: ‘IS insists on women wearing veils, socks, gloves and loose or baggy clothes and, if she does not, the man with her will be lashed.’ Ahmad also said that living conditions have deteriorated sharply and the actions of IS officials become more arbitrary: ‘They take food without paying and confiscated much of my stock under the pretence of supporting the Islamic State militiamen. Everything is expensive and the stores are half-empty. The markets were crowded a year ago, but not for the last ten months because so many people have fled and those that have stayed are unemployed.’ There has been no mains electricity for seven months and everybody depends on private generators which run on locally refined fuel. This is available everywhere, but is expensive and of such poor quality that it works only for generators and not for cars – and the generators often break down. There is a shortage of drinking water. ‘Every ten days, we have water for two hours,’ Ahmad said. ‘The water we get from the tap is not clean, but we have to drink it.’ There is no mobile phone network and the internet is available only in internet cafés that are closely monitored by the authorities for sedition. There are signs of growing criminality and corruption, though this may mainly be evidence that IS is in desperate need of money. When Ahmad decided to flee he contacted one of many smugglers operating in the area between Mosul and the Syrian frontier. He said the cost for each individual smuggled into Rojava is between $400 and $500. ‘Many of the smugglers are IS men,’ he said, but he didn’t know whether the organisation’s leaders knew what was happening. They certainly know that there are increasing complaints about living conditions because they have cited a hadith, a saying of the Prophet, against such complaints. Those who violate the hadith are arrested and sent for re-education. Ahmad’s conclusion: ‘Dictators become very violent when they sense that their end is close.’
How accurate is Ahmad’s prediction that the caliphate is entering its final days? It is certainly weakening, but this is largely because the war has been internationalised since 2014 by US and Russian military intervention. Local and regional powers count for less than they did. The Iraqi and Syrian armies, the YPG and the Peshmerga can win victories over IS thanks to close and massive air support. They can defeat it in battle and can probably take the cities it still rules, but none of them will be able fully to achieve their war aims without the continued backing of a great power. Once the caliphate is gone, however, the central governments in Baghdad and Damascus may grow stronger again. The Kurds wonder if they will then be at risk of losing all the gains they have made in the war against Islamic State.
8th December 2015
The Democratic Syria Conference seeking a resolution to the crisis in Syria has started in the city of Dêrîk in Rojava (N.Syria) under the slogan “Towards the building of a free and democratic Syria”.
The conference is being attended by 103 delegates representing Syrian political, military and societal opposition organisations including representatives from Democratic Autonomy Administration (TEV-DEM), Rojava Political Consultation Party Group, Syrian Democratic Community, Honor and Rights Agreement Community, Wheat Wave Movement (Teyar El-Qemih), Syrian National Democratic Consensus Committee.
The participants also include Cairo Congress Dialogue Committee, Arab National Council, Yekîtiya Star organisation, Initiative of Syrian Women, Syriac Women’s Union, Progressive Democratic Party of Syrian Kurds, Democratic Modernity Party, Kurdistan Freedom Party, Democratic Assyrian Party, Tal Abyad Turkmen Community as well as many independent individuals, prominent figures from Kurdish and Arab tribes, writers and journalists.
The Democratic Syria Conference is the first of its kind seeking a resolution to the crisis in Syria and has convened in what commentators are saying is an alternative to the Riyadh Conference in Saudi Arabia. The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the People’s and Women’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) were not invited to the meeting in Riyadh, which is being attended by jihadist groups like Ahrar Al-Sham and Jaysh Al-Islam.
PYD co-chair Saleh Moslem has commented on the Riyadh Conference saying, “The meeting is being organised in accordance with the demand of some regional and international forces. It doesn’t pay regard to the current political and military reality in Syria and the region as the most active and dynamic actors and representatives of the actual Syrian opposition haven’t been invited. In the circumstances, such meetings will have no seriousness.”
Stressing that the Riyadh meeting will also remain inconclusive just like the previous Geneva and similar meetings, Moslem said “Such a meeting will not serve the peoples of Syria because of the very clear reason that it offers no concrete project or political path for a solution to the Syrian crisis. Nor does the meeting determine anything regarding the rights of the Kurdish people who are giving the most effective fight against gang groups at a very heavy cost.”
A report on Rojava by Adrian Cruden of the Green Party can be found at:
A new wave of international volunteers is flocking to Kurdish territory in Rojava, Syria to play their part in building a new society. Here, one young British activist tells of his reasons for travelling to join the revolution, and what he saw when he got there
1. Call And Response
Tonight we wait to cross. I attempt to copy the guides as they expertly cup their hands to hide the glow of their cigarettes and burn my palm as I draw in. Looking at my watch I see we’ve been here for four hours now. Can we relax or should we stay ready? Even if I spoke Kurdish I’m not close enough to our guides to ask, and cannot risk moving. In the valley an armoured car rumbles slowly past, scanning for us with its searchlight.
Next to me Ernst has already begun to snore. We are each other’s responsibility when the time comes to make the 100m dash to the razor wire, under it, and away. He is the oldest in our brigade, celebrating his 76th birthday in our work camp in the ruined city of Kobane, away from his wife and grown up daughters. Are they political too? I asked him one night on guard duty.
“No. No. But they appreciate their daddy, their old revolutionary.”
I share his faith, and somewhere with us in the darkness too is Kris, just 18; are we a new breed or just echoes of the past? Was our time here supporting the revolution in Rojava, a tiny strip of land in Syrian Kurdistan,a pilgrimage for red devotees – or is it part of a modern wave of internationalism? I pull my hood up and sleep.
The sheer barbarity of ISIS seems to go hand in hand with their rapid, unchecked expansion, like an elemental evil. When they were beaten on mount Sinjar by the Kurds, the world united in admiration; the images of the Women’s Defence Force (YPJ) felt like history’s answer to the misogyny of ISIS. On the London left support was unanimous, though what exactly we were supporting seemed unclear. In the 2013 Rojava Revolution the region declared not independence from Syria, but autonomy; there was a contradiction between the Rojava’s formally elected government, led by the largest Kurdish party, the PYD, and reports that, following the teachings of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, networks of popular assemblies ran the region, as anarchists such as David Graeber have argued. Some even called it a stateless democracy.
For more see:
October 23, 2015 6:20 pm
Power to the people: a Syrian experiment in democracy
The Kurds in Rojava are testing a democratic model shaped by the political philosophy of an American eco-anarchist
Perhaps the last place you would expect to find a thriving experiment in direct democracy is Syria. But something radical is happening, little noticed, in the eastern reaches of that fractured country, in the isolated region known to the Kurds as Rojava.
Just as remarkable, perhaps, is that the philosophy that inspired self-government here was originated by a little-known American political thinker and one-time “eco-activist” whose ideas found their way to Syria through a Kurdish leader imprisoned upon an island in the Sea of Marmara. It’s a story that bizarrely connects a war-torn Middle East with New York’s Lower East Side.
I visited Rojava last month while filming a documentary about the failings of the western model of democracy. The region covers a substantial “corner” of north-east Syria and has a population of approximately 3m, yet it is not easy to get to. The only passage is by small boat or a creaky pontoon bridge across the Tigris from Iraq.
Turkey has closed its borders with Rojava, preventing all movement from the north, including humanitarian supplies to Kurdish-controlled areas. To the south, in Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government does not make access easy; permits for journalists are not straightforward and, we were told, repeat visits are discouraged.
The isolation is not only physical. Turkey regards the Syrian Kurd YPG militia that is fighting the jihadi organisation Isis in Rojava as synonymous with the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), a longstanding enemy inside Turkey. The YPG’s advance against Isis along Syria’s northern border has been halted by the declaration by Turkey of a so-called “safe zone” to the west of the Euphrates between the front line and the Kurdish-controlled canton of Afrin in the north-west. For the Kurds, the motive seems transparently clear: to prevent the formation of a contiguous area of Kurdish control along Turkey’s southern border.
The KRG, which collaborates with Turkey against the PKK, has also been reluctant to support the YPG, even though they share a common enemy in the shape of Isis. Turkey has likewise pressured the US to eschew the Syrian Kurds, although in the past few days Washington has come out in more open support, including delivering arms supplies to the YPG. Meanwhile, the Kurds maintain an uneasy truce with the Syrian regime, which keeps two small bases in Rojava but otherwise has no military presence here — a tacit deal whereby the Kurds control the territory in return for not fighting the regime.
Those journalists that do get here naturally gravitate to the front lines like the devastated city of Kobani; similarly, images of the photogenic young women who make up the female Kurdish militia, the YPJ, are more eye-catching than the village hall meetings that comprise the reality of an innovative grassroots democracy. But it is in those dusty assemblies across Rojava that a democratic revolution is taking place.
The onset of the Syrian revolution in 2012 saw the collapse of the Assad regime’s authority across much of Syria. When this vacuum opened in Rojava, the Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD) sought to fill it by building a new form of democracy from the bottom up.
In this radical new dispensation, authority is vested primarily in the communal level — the village. At one assembly I attended, villagers gathered in a spartan town hall to debate their affairs. An old man began by retailing all the decisions of the previous meeting. The audience grew restive with boredom until a very young co-chair gently stopped him. Then, others took turns to voice their concerns. These were the stuff of day-to-day village life: anxiety about deliveries of medical supplies; celebration following the announcement of the opening of a small new factory for laundry powder. But the rocketing prices of bread and other basics were lamented at length. The prosaic found its voice, too: someone complained about children riding their bikes too fast around the village.
Not all decisions can be made at the most local level. Those that need broader discussion go to district or cantonal assemblies (Rojava is comprised of three cantons). Here, as in the villages, care is taken to give non-Arab minorities and women prominence. Every assembly I encountered was co-chaired by a woman. In one town, a very young Kurdish woman enthused to me that never before had people like her — “the youth” — been included in actual government. At meetings across the region I was struck by the sense of a population trying to get used to methods of self-government that were entirely unfamiliar after generations of dictatorship.
I was repeatedly told that special efforts were made to include the Arab, Assyrian and Turkmen minorities. Some Arabs confirmed this to me directly, with something resembling bewilderment. In Jazira canton, the two co-chairs of the district’s “institutions of self-government”, as this collective system is awkwardly named, consisted of an aged Arab sheikh and another young Kurdish woman. Accustomed to the traditional hierarchies of the Middle East at such gatherings, I unthinkingly addressed the senior-looking man. Without speaking, he turned to the young woman to speak for the group. She then spoke Arabic for the benefit of non-Kurdish participants.
The Arab sheikh’s guards wore black uniforms and long beards, a resemblance to Isis that suggested sympathies that may have only been conditionally suspended. Indeed, I learnt later that the sheikh had been on the Isis side until the extremists massacred members of his tribe. Inevitably, in a country where ethnic groups and allegiances are thoroughly scrambled together, the front lines are not always well defined.
A report released by Amnesty International recently claimed that the YPG has forcibly removed some Arab families from towns captured from Isis. The YPG’s response was that these examples are very few among the mass displacement of tens of thousands, and inevitable in areas of extended combat with Isis, which routinely conceals its fighters among the civilian population.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the democratic experiment in Rojava is the justice system that has been established alongside self-government. In Jazira, one chair of the justice committee (again a young woman) explained that since courts and punishment represented the coercive dominance of the state, such institutions had been replaced by a kind of community justice, where “social peace”, and not punishment, was the objective.
Intrigued, though a little baffled by these slogans, I asked to see what this meant in practice. The next day, I attended a mass lunch where one family hosted another. A member of the first family had killed a man from the second: lunch marked the families’ reconciliation, the culmination of a collective process of compensation, apology and forgiveness, where the perpetrator, briefly imprisoned, publicly acknowledged his crime. In turn, this act of contrition, supported by his family by means including the ceremonial meal, was accepted by the victim’s relations.
I asked the brother of the murdered man why he didn’t want the killer to face further punishment. His eyes moist with grief, he replied, no: “social peace” was more important than punishment. This was a better way, he argued: what good would be served by a long punishment of the perpetrator? I was staggered and moved. I thought of the barbarity of Rikers Island prison, which I would fly over on my way home to the US. No one in that country would claim that a system premised on punishment over reconciliation has achieved “social peace”.
Throughout the visit I met officials and ordinary citizens who enthused about the virtues of participatory, non-hierarchical self-government. I was amazed to find such a widespread consciousness of political ideas barely discussed in the rest of the world. In one town, I found myself debating the finer distinctions of anarchist philosophers — Kropotkin, Bakunin — with a youth organiser who was fluent in the discourse of people power. Where on earth had these ideas sprung from? The answer is New York City.
The reason for the strange emergence of communal self-government in Rojava became clear during my visit. Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the banned PKK party, is seen by Kurds in Syria, as well as those in Turkey, as the leader of Kurdish liberation. This despite — or in defiance of — the fact that, for the past 16 years, he has been held in a Turkish prison on an island in the Sea of Marmara.
Öcalan, 67, was once a devotee of Marxism-Leninism but came to believe that, like capitalism, communism perforce relied upon coercion (in capitalism’s case, coercion is necessary inter alia to enforce the exploitative contract between capital and labour). By chance, one book passed to him in jail was the masterwork of a New York political thinker named Murray Bookchin. Like Öcalan, Bookchin rejected communism when he became disillusioned with Stalinism’s authoritarian bent. A passionate believer in equality and freedom, he spent years teaching and arguing about anarchist philosophy in the bars and radical political groups of the city’s Lower East Side. Bookchin believed that true democracy could only prosper when decision-making belonged to the local community and was not monopolised by distant and unaccountable elites. In books such as The Ecology of Freedom (1982), he looked back to democracy’s origins in ancient Greece, where all citizens — although not, he noted, women or slaves — took turns to make political decisions.
Outside of the radical and bohemian circles of 1970s New York, Bookchin’s ideas have remained obscure, despite their pertinence today. Bookchin married what we now call environmentalism with anarchism. He believed that anarchism’s fundamental precept, the rejection of power of one over another, should apply to mankind’s relationship with the natural world. Entrapped in concrete cities, people were alienated from themselves and nature. The disasters of pollution and pillaged resources would persist as long as the false hierarchy of mankind over nature endured.
Bookchin ultimately eschewed the term “anarchist”, which he saw tainted by those who vaunted mere selfish individualism, “lifestyle anarchism”. Some kind of organised administration was, he believed, necessary to make collective decisions, as long as it included everyone: government can only be for the people when it is truly by the people. Bookchin called it “communalism”.
On his prison island, Öcalan saw that Bookchin’s concept of government without the state was ideal for the Kurds — a people who had been denied their own state. In pamphlets and books, he interpreted Bookchin’s communalism for the Kurdish context and termed it “democratic confederalism”. If you wanted a society freed of coercion, you must abolish the ultimate practitioner of coercion, including violence: the state itself. In 2004, Öcalan wrote to Bookchin and invited him to Kurdistan, but Bookchin was by then too unwell to undertake such a journey. He died two years later.
Öcalan’s new ideas were distributed across the PKK and, through them, to the Syrian Kurdish PYD. His influence in propagating a system of democracy without hierarchy presents one of the ironies of the situation in Rojava: a system that emphatically rejects all authority was inspired by a singular leader who has in the past used harsh methods to enforce organisational discipline.
In meeting after meeting I attended in Rojava, one issue generated particular emotion: emigration. My visit coincided with the tragic drowning of Aylan Kurdi, the little boy whose picture is now the symbol of the refugee crisis. That child came from Kobani, a city levelled by fighting. In the assemblies I attended, by far the loudest sentiment was frustration that people were leaving because of the desperate economic circumstances.
There were many complaints that the Turkish “embargo”, as it is universally termed in Rojava, has made life impossibly difficult. Reconstruction of devastated towns recaptured from Isis, like Kobani, was all but impossible. There was no choice but to leave. Local democracy can only fix so much when the international constraints are intractable.
To these people, the west’s acquiescence in the treatment of Rojava by Turkey and the KRG, both western allies, is bewildering. For them, these radical ideas on self-government offer a democratic model for all of Syria. One man argued to me that the centralised state, which he named the “ziggurat”, had been a catastrophe for Syria and Iraq in recent generations, an argument hard to dispute. It was self-evident, he contended, that a decentralised and inclusive structure of democracy had a better chance of producing stability — woven from the bottom up rather than imposed from the top down.
If and when there is ever a political deal to end Syria’s hideous war, this option must surely be on the table. Recent examples of Middle Eastern “state-building”, after the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, are not encouraging. Outside states continue to prefer to construct other states that resemble themselves: the model of top-down government with its illusory offer of control is deeply ingrained. Decentralisation, particularly in the fullest sense advocated by Bookchin, threatens those used to authority — and particularly those who wield it.
One irony of Rojava’s democratic experiment is it was only made possible by the rupture of war and the effective collapse of state authority. What is happening in the west is less dramatic, but is a crisis nonetheless. The model of supposedly “representative” but hierarchical democracy as manifested in western capitals is seen as less and less representative by the people it is supposed to answer to. The fissure between the power of the wealthy and connected and everyone else is painfully evident. The desire to take power back is growing.
Rojava may seem exotic and its democratic experiment radical, but that word means a return to the root, and that is exactly what is happening in this remote corner of Syria: rule by the people; democracy returning to its roots.
Carne Ross is a former British diplomat and author. He visited Syria for the documentary film, ‘The Accidental Anarchist’, produced by Hopscotch Films and Mentorn Media with support from the Sundance Institute for release in 2016
Photographs: Carne Ross; Janet Biehl
A personal account from the Lions of Rojava web page. Unfortunately it doesn’t say who wrote it, but contains criticism from an Anarchist perspective:
In light of what has happened and what is going to be it seems to me that the time has come for an assessment of the state of affairs in Rojava. Doubtless it will be highly subjective and based on individual experience, still I hope it to be of some help for people within the revolution and outside of it to further their understanding of the current situation. My analysis is mostly derived from my impressions of Cizîre canton as I have never visited Afrîn and Kobanê.
Three years into the revolution Rojava has stepped into a world of unapprehended possibilities. Change is happening rapidly in all spheres of society. The unprecedented freedom created a highly diverse and in many ways paradox socio-political landscape. Rojava is at the moment in a strange limbo between a revolutionary community movement and a federal state longing to be taken under the wings of the European Union. Currently revolutionary and more bourgeois instituitons exist parallely, while both the revolutionary and the liberalist development remain options, the essential question still being if the revolution can expand to larger groups outside of Rojava.
Under the Assad regime, Kurdish people were denied basic rights and citizenship. They were largely prevented from legally owning property and disenfranchised economically. These policies put pressure on Kurds to migrate away from Rojava, while the regime colonised the area with Arabs. Kurdish language teaching was illegal, children were not allowed to speak it in schools and Kurdish media wasn’t allowed.
Kurds were not allowed health services, to have their own industries and to get support from the state. Due to this and many other issues, some of the Kurds wanted to leave Syria, however, it was not deemed legal as they did not have a right to travel to other countries.
The area was deliberately kept poor with no small independent business allowed to flourish. The only industry was large government owned enterprise, usually oriented around oil. The other dominant sector being wheat which supports the rest of Syria. The land in Rojava is very valuable but the economy lacks diversity.
In 2004, during the start of a football match between Kurds from Qamishlo and Arabs from Deir al-Zor (now an ISIS stronghold) in Rojava, Arab supremicists were waving pictures of Saddam Hussein shouting “The second Halabja [mass genocide in Iraq by Saddam] will be in Syria”. Fighting broke out and it spread to the entire city but was later heavily suppressed by the Syrian army. After this failed attempt, there begun the period of underground organising and preparation. Self-defense forces were setup that later in 2012 were announced as the YPG (People’s Defense Units).
In 2012, the Rojavan forces began to take over cities, setting up headquarters creating autonomous self-governing administrations in line with their philosophy.
A large part of the Kurdish population of Rojava, especially in Afrîn canton, supports the revolution and its structures. On the other hand there are many people who are indifferent or opposed to it. Many of the christian families still express strong loyalty towards Assad, more than a few of their children are currently fighting in the regime’s army.
There is also a consistent level mistrust between next to all of the peoples inhabiting the area that has very deep roots and was manifested by countless oppressions and massacres in the last millenia. Muslims against Christians, Arabs against Kurds, Kurmancis against Ezidis, Turks against Armenians – while this is certainly not a problem of the Middle East alone but rather of civilization in general, the proximity in which these peoples coexist and interact is one of the features that have created such a unique situation in Rojava. It is true that since the revolution relations between different ethnical and religious groups have drastically improved.
Firstly this is mainly due to firstly the lack of ‘divide-and-rule’ repression arbitrarily enacted by the Baath regime. There was large-scale forced resettlements to split Kurdish territory in Syria into smaller parts, massacres of Kurds by Arabs that were organized and paid for by the regime, and also a de-facto ban on growing trees as well as systematic destruction of forests in the Cizire region. This was to prevent opponents of the regime from moving to these once paradisical outskirts of Syria, just to name a few examples.
Secondly the council system that gives all social groups a high degree of autonomy, public recognition and a platform to interact as equals with each other. Nonetheless: while open hatred has considerably dropped behind the frontlines, traditionalized animosity, tribal allegiances and strong propaganda have driven lots of people into the arms of Bashar and Daesh respectively, both of whom (especially Daesh) use the new political freedom to more and more openly rally for their causes.
There remains the considerable amount of people who are indifferent to any sort of change that doesn’t have direct impact on their material living conditions. Many look longingly to Turkey, or to Başûr (Iraqi Kurdistan) where the KRG has created a capitalist, pseudo-liberal oasis with shining lights, flashy SUVs and a flood of America’s finest cultural output that distract many people (especially those who only see it from far) from the social disparity, rampaging corruption and disappearances of government critics. The benefits of the revolution beyond the prospect of a raised standard of living are still beyond many people.
Also it is understood by many non-Kurds to be “their revolution” instead of “the revolution of all of us” – a claim that is vehemently denied by revolutionary Kurds. Still many Arabs, Assyrians and other minorities remain unconvinced as the imagery, art and music, as well as the characters driving the revolution, are almost exclusively Kurdish. While ties between the Kurdish and Assyrian political movement going back more than twenty years have led to a strong cooperation today, the alliances between YPG and some Arab tribes are more strategical than ideological and there is still lack of any effort able to fully incorporate society into the communal councils of the Democratic Autonomy system. This goes especially for Cizîre, the canton with the most diverse society.
One of the most interesting developments is definitely the new justice system. I am no expert on law or concepts of restorative justice but hope that my impressions will incline people to find out more about the approaches applied at the moment.
One of the main ideas is to diminish the need and with that the power of a centralized judiciary system by solving disputes on the communal level. All the concerned parties engage in dialogue mediated by especially trained people from the community, with the aim of finding a solution that is not focused on punishment but on reparation and rehabilitation along guidelines that are less strict and more flexible than penal code. If this fails the case will be forwarded to the regional level, and only in the last instance or in cases of the most severe crimes a more classical court with a jury will deal with the issue. The model seems somewhat similar to Rwanda’s Gacaca courts which were temporarily established after the civil war to deal with the huge numbers of genocidaires. In Rojava however it is less a matter of necessity than of the wish to create a free and fair jurisdiction, following the credo less laws, more justice.
Amongst the new practices is the so-called platform, which has tradition in the movement. In a platform, the accused and the damaged parties (e.g. a thief and the people she/he stole from or a murderer and the family of the victim) as well as representatives of different parts of civil society are given a forum to openly speak out. All the participants of a platform can then voice critique and self-critique on why the crime took place and how to avoid it in the future. The accused and the assembly then make suggestions for measurements to be taken or punishments, always oriented along the principles of restorative justice. Final decisions are voted on by the assembly and a board of mediators.
Prisons exist, however only for those who have committed severe crimes (many inmates are captured Daesh fighters for example). They are also nothing like the dungeons of the Baath state. Life is communal and centered around education, work and shared activities. Reflection and rehabilitation are essential parts of that. All inmates are encouraged to learn new skills, like languages or crafts, and are being credited for doing so, which can lead to an early release or other bonuses.
Education is very interesting. Teachers recognise students as equals and are seen more as facilitators. There are meetings where the students can criticise and suggest improvements to their teacher’s lessons. There’s an emphasis within schools on teaching culture, language, history and politics (all connected).
There is now work happening to create a network of free open spaces where students work on personal projects assisted by teachers, with subjects including ecology, culture, technology and students pushed to become independent self-organising enterprising individuals. They want to move away from a system that is about training students, to one which imbues values, and equips them with the tools they need. Encouraging and valuing self-expression is an important goal.
The people working within this new framework of justice are being trained in new academies. The academies (mostly for higher learning) are a cornerstone of the new education system. Students and teachers live together communally and the curriculum is very participatory, the daily program to a large part being shaped by the students. In the justice academies the first months are almost entirely filled with sociology, psychology and discussions on the philosophical and moral implications of the concept of ‘justice’, before continuing to the more legal questions and technicalities of implementing the new model.
The schools are still under control of the Baath state (with exception of those teaching outside its curriculum, like Kurdish language schools etc.) who pays the teachers and facilities. Training of new teachers is however underway and new curricula are largely ready to be applied.
Education is recognized as a key field in order to sustain a deep social revolution and altogether great efforts are being made to launch a completely new approach to the issue.
The medical sector is still maintained and paid for by the regime. The Democratic Autonomy institutions are making preparations to gradually take over responsibility during the next years. Local clinics and health centers are also being opened to provide free basic health care and a universal access to medical knowledge through training.
Politically Rojava is social anarchist, and economically it is market anarchist. Though these are not rigid definitions.
Regions are given local autonomy- think multiple dozens within each canton. They have their own local council, maintain their own internal checkpoints and controls, and make decisions on who they buy and sell from.
Right now a lot of economic philosophy is centered around developing an economy based around unions of local businesses under a cooperative umbrella to serve their needs. Inside people buy and sell from one another and use the umbrella to interact with other groups. This then provides a mechanism whereby by local governments are able to offer their resources (such as industrial equipment) and investment to the umbrella organisation. People inside the organisations make decisions amongst themselves.
I’ve spoken with various people and there is no tax. People tell me there is no interference or tax on their work. Every locality has its own economic centre. Common resources have some kind of democratic mechanism regulating some parts of how they’re distributed (rather than flowing to central government). Although I’m still unsure how exactly they’re distributed, and a large portion of money is going to maintaining the YPG. The primary source of income for the government is oil and the border crossing.
Also there’s the TEV DEM which is a big political support network that assists civil society. Land is allocated or put to use through local councils (part of TEV DEM). They are also encouraging cooperatives and providing resources to small independent groups. Industrial machinery and vehicles are centralised in big depos that are then lent out to groups on a need to use basis.
For instance as a farmer, you can choose to remain independent, or you can join the government’s agricultural cooperative and get access to investment (which you must pay dividends back), access to machines/industrial equipment, and education/access to knowledge. Using the resources, they are able to create a voluntary support network which members want to participate in thereby improving its utility. There are several cooperatives (sometimes competing) and they’re run as social enterprises.
I have not seen or heard of any forced collectivisations ala 1936 Spain or 1920 Ukraine. The constitution protects private property and has been accused by left anarchists of being bourgeois. The converse is that people very much identify themselves as socialists with equality being a core value (freedom, humanity, equality). The main goals are self-sufficiency and a localised economy.
Right now (outside oil), the dominant sector is agriculture with a distant retail sector. Every city is thriving with shops and markets, life is very much alive here. Under Assad, Kurds could only produce wheat (for Syria) but the soil is very rich. Right now there is an overabundance of wheat and the government wants to encourage the economy to diversify. This reduces the dependence on imports since all of Rojava’s neighbours are hostile to its existence.
Also they have invested in light industry since there is a need to maintain their industrial vehicles which are experiencing problems. Since they’re all different types too, it’s difficult to swap parts in and out. Although raw resources aren’t in huge supply, they have access. Creating a native industrial DIY economy is an imperative, and OSE projects ideas/knowledge are definitely needed.
Rojava’s main economical sectors are agriculture and oil production, while a growing service sector shouldn’t be underestimated. Afrîn has a somewhat diversified agriculture but in Kobanê and Cizîre it produces almost exclusively wheat. There is also livestock breeding, mainly family-owned flock of sheep, and some larger cattle and poultry facilities which are now mostly cooperative-run but operate at the very least – to spare an ethical comment on animal mass production – un-ecological.
The large amounts of oil in Cizîre canton (I’m sorry I can’t procure any numbers as I’m writing this) are a very important economical and political factor. At the moment most of the countless oil rigs stand still as the embargo makes it virtually impossible to export any larger quantities of crude and a handful of pumps provide the fuel supply for the entire canton. Electricity in all of Cizîre is produced with diesel generators. The price for a litre of diesel is below one US dollar. The soil pollution through leaking rigs and aging pipelines is already a problem and might become a much bigger one in the future. The economical commissions are very interested in going over to renewable energies and at the moment looking for ways to get solar technology and know-how into the country.
Many industries are now organized in cooperatives, from farming over tailoring to retail sellers and there are new cooperatives opening every week with start-up grants from the administration. The diversification of agriculture is an endeavour that is only just beginning now.
Everyday commodities and food are available all over Cizîre canton, imported goods a little but not much more expensive than before the embargo. There is no severe scarcities but a very limited water supply in some parts of Qamişlo where water is only available two or three hours a day. In those quarters this situation has been continuing for more that two years.
Ecological development and environmental protection are on paper core values of the Rojava revoluion. In practice there is still a long way to go. Environmental awareness as a socio-political concept as it has developed, branched out and in some parts become radical in Europe over the last one and a half centuries is still relatively new to the Middle East. The ecological development of Rojava’s economy is one of the many fields in which the administration asks for help from outside. It is crucial to get input now from communities all over the world who have experience with sustainable and revolutionary forms of production for many decades. This knowledge is urgently needed now to prevent Rojava from falling back into centralized unsustainable production schemes that dominated under Baath rule.
The municipalities are struggling to raise awareness of the waste problem. While a consistent waste-management system does not exist yet some village and neighbourhood communes are doing a great job in cleaning up their streets, reminding of Rwanda’s Umuganda days (every first Saturday a month Rwandans meet up in their neighbourhoods for community work). While in Rwanda this is decreed by the central government and partcipation is mandatory, the Rojava communes do it on their own agenda. The ecological commissions are enthusiastic about recycling and other innovative approaches to environmental problems, right now the means are missing however to put them into practice.
Next to all of Cizîre canton is cultivated land. There are three major streams of water: The Tigris, the Cexcex and the Xabûr. Apart from the endless wheat fields there are six lakes close to the northern border around which diverse ecosystems exist in small pockets of forests and wetlands. The ecological department is working to give them a kind of National Park status and protecting their wildlife with the help of local villagers. They aim to extensively research the local ecosystems and create education centers in these areas where students and other people can actively study them and learn about ecology. The Cizîre environmental department is currently looking for foreign partners to implement these projects.
Defense and security
A couple of weeks back I had a discussion with a communist comrade – the age-old stand-off about whether the state can be used as a revolutionary tool. To my strong case against that he replied “Well, that’s what I always argue with the Apoists about. They say the state is always evil, yet they have created one.”
Is Rojava really a state? Many arguments have been made for and against that case. When it comes to Rojava’s army though I can only agree with the critics. The Hêzên Xweparastina, always in the shadow of the heroic YPG, leave no doubt. They are a fully-fledged infantry army in which all Rojavan men aging between 18 and 30 have to serve a minimum six months. Great billboards in Qamişlo show imposing battallions of beige-clad soldiers pledging with their right arms and hands outstretched forward into the air. The ritual is adopted from the Baath army. You don’t have to guess twice where they got the idea from.
Yes – a conscription army requires a level of institutionalized coercion and centralization that are unmistakable attributes of a state. As far as Rojava is still away from any other state in the world, in this question the case is clear.
So is it over? Rojava has died just like revolutionary Spain and the Paris commune? Back in our discussion, my communist comrade and I don’t think that. And that is because of a new force that has been around for a few months now: The HPC – Hêzên Parastina Cewherî. I personally can’t translate the difference between Hêzên Xweparastina and Hêzên Parastina Cewherî into English (both essentially mean self-defence forces) but they could hardly be more apart from each other. The HPC are armed civilians who received basic weapons training and provide security in their communities from evening to morning. They are mostly stationed at crossroads where they occassionally check cars (one of the main concerns is Daesh bringing weapons into the city) or take the keys of drunk drivers away. They are both men and women, young and old, Arab and Kurdish. They organize through the commune, every night somebody else is on duty. They are not concerned with petty policing but with the safety of their community. They are a brainchild of the revolution.
It is the highest proof of integrity if an authority gives weapons to its subjects. It is like God giving Adam and Eve the Forbidden Fruit and urging them to try it. It recognizes not only that the people need to actively self-organize rather than passively rely on the authority, it regognizes that the day will come when the people need to defend themselves not against an external enemy but against the authority itself. Let’s make a hypothetical experiment: Let’s assume some people start feeling that the Hêzên Xweparastina have nothing to do with people’s protection anymore but just defend the status quo of a ruling elite. They now have the means at hand to protect their sons and brothers against anyone who tries enforcing the conscription. And if other communities follow suit the army ranks will be empty very soon. It seems Rojava has let a cancer grow but at the same time developed a cure.
The YPG consists of three basic elements: The professional fighters, the militias and the mentioned conscription army. The professionals commit themselves to a life as revolutionaries. While all YPG fighters pledge to defend the freedom of women and the democratic and ecologic society, it is the professionals who make this a lifelong goal. The Hêzên Xweparastina are meant to provide border security once the war is over but at the moment are also fighting at the front. About forty percent of YPG are professionals, the rest are army and militias. The militia fighters continue to be a big problem. Their numbers are desperately needed and were even more so a year or two back, but many of them still lack the most basic training. Now that the situation at the front has changed somewhat for the better, many militiamen and -women are being sent to the rear to be trained for the first time. The moral and ideological values that play such a huge role in YPG’s professional arm have often never reached the militias who are the cause of recurring reports of fighters taking revenge on Daesh captives or even attacking civilians, looting villages in recently occupied territory. These actions are considered severe crimes in YPG, morally as well as legally, and there are commissions as well as large funds in place only for the compensation of civilians who have lost homes and property. Still, the follow-up of these incidents sometimes simply gets lost in the mess of war and bureaucracy. Also victims often don’t know who to talk to and the commanders of the involved YPG units are interested in covering the incidents up.
The professional YPG is for the most part a brave and effective fighting force, very good at employing guerrilla tactics in urban warfare. There remains a level of confusion and ineptitude due to the unfamiliar nature of the war. The military experience YPG draws from the armed resistances in the other parts of Kurdistan, all very mountainous territories – Rojava on the other hand is flat and requires the continuous defence of towns and areas without any advantageous geography. In the last two months many fighters have been withdrawn from Kobanê after half a year of heavy urban combat to pass on their experience to new recruits. While players like Daesh or the Baath regime extensively use modern technology for propaganda and intelligence the YPG still lags far behind. Given the overall circumstances they are still doing a good job at adapting though, but much more changes in structure, training, PR and intelligence are needed.
The cantons of Cizîre and Kobanê have been united very recently in the battles of Gire Sipî and Siluk. Almost all of Kurdish territory and sizable portions of land primarily inhabited by other groups are now under YPG control. With the pending offensive on Jarablus and the Azaz area the three cantons of Rojava as well as the autonomous Sengal region will become continous territory. The Turkish state has however publicly declared in the last days that they will not allow a ‘Kurdish corridor’ to exist between Afrîn and Kobanê. While they would need NATO approval to invade Syrian territory it doesn’t seem impossible that they will get it. After all the west has tolerated Turkey’s more or less open support of Daesh and while coalition airstrikes have been a great help to the YPG, they have never been trusted allies like the Pêşmerga, never received the desperately needed heavy weapons or other logistics.
The situation in Turkey will be decisive for Rojava’s future. In the recent elections the HDP, a party close to the Kurdish freedom movement entered Turkish parliament for the first time, while Erdoğan’s AKP lost its absolute majority and is now forced to form a coalition. The organizations of the Kurdish freedom movement, most notably the PKK and KCK, continue to be listed as terrorist by Turkey and most of its allies. Massive military operations against civilians and areas in which guerrillas are assumed to be have shaken Bakûr in the last days. While repression against Kurds by state forces, fascist and islamist groups (between whom exists only a nominal difference) has been running even higher that usual Erdogan has refuted all attempts by Kurdish representatives to find a diplomatic solution. There are many signs that a full-scale revolutionary uprising is on its way in Bakûr, which would mean war against the Turkish state.
Rojava will not be neutral in such a situation. Even if it wants to the Turkish government has declared that the YPG is the PKK’s Syrian section and that compared to Daesh they are the greater threat. Even though It seems naïve to believe that NATO would continue their air support if Turkey starts a full-scale war against the PKK again. Much rather will Rojava become the next target for their airstrikes. YPG is in a very comfortable position right now with their victories in Gire Sipî and the Kizwan Mountains. But if the northern border becomes a battlesight this will change very soon. Daesh is far from finished. While YPG was marching on Xera and Mabrûka (not to forget with NATO air support) the jihadists took Palmyra and Ramadi, the defenders of which outnumbered them ten to one. The Kobanê massacre showed that they can strike decisively whenever they want again. They have a habit of knowing when their enemy is weak and they have learned from the siege of Kobanê. With the war that’s broken out in Bakûr, the revolutionary Kurdish forces have to fight at many fronts they will know where to strike. And they need to be prepared for that.
Many times in YPG have I seen the half-sad smile following the answer to the question where I come from. The people then say “Crazy. You have come from Europe to fight here and the youths from here run away to Europe.” Mad world. Is it really so despiccable though to not want to die in a war in the middle of nowhere while everybody else seems to enjoy themselves in hip, well-temperated metropoles with fast internet, cool drugs and parties every night? The revolution, on the other hand, has offered them nothing but a poorly edited portrait on public billboards once their remains have been buried.
The Kurdish Freedom Movement is historically a proletarian, and even more importantly, a rural one. Many in it categorically neglect urban lifestyle as capitalist. That’s why its political discourse has largely been missing practical approaches to the life in urban societies. Also, while Öcalan has been very popular in Rojava since he started living here in the Eighties, the political awakening and transformation that has shaken Bakûr (Turkish Kurdistan) since then has never really happened here. The style of the revolution’s message appeals to the diversity of traditional Kurdish culture and ways of life. Rojava’s youngsters are equally bored by it like youths in most parts of the world. Kurdish culture was never persecuted in Syria the way it was in Turkey, its conservation therefore lacks the radical appeal. They longingly look to the west and have little motivation to die protecting their dusty provincial hometowns.
These are gross generalizations of course. Many Rojavan youths fight in YPG or are active in the autonomous youth councils, many of them believe in the revolution. But not nearly enough. There is dire need to communicate a newer, more modern message, in a way that really speaks to young people. They need to understand why the revolution matters to them. They need to understand that Rojava is not a place to leave, but a place where people go to, a new hotspot at the forefront of history.
Rojava is a women’s revolution. There can be no doubt that concerning women’s liberation the revolution has made deeper and more substantial changes than on any other front so far. With a radical break with the chauvinist patriarchal Baath state, women of all backgrounds now actively participate in the shaping of society. While most of the world has heard about the YPJ, whose female fighters make up more than a third of Rojava’s defence forces, much fewer people know about their role in civil society where all assemblies and parliaments are required to be made up of at least 40 percent women and every executive position, be it occupied by a man or a woman, always has a male and a female deputy. Patriarchal mindsets run deep nevertheless and are maybe the most important issue that the Women’s Association and other civil society groups are seeking to tackle. The Rojava Free Women’s Foundation (Waqfa Jina Azad Rojava) is working on several ambitious projects for women’s empowerment in everyday life, to those who want to find out more I recommend its English website.
Rojava is so successful as a feminist cause because it builds on over thirty years of Kurdish women’s struggle against patriarchy and oppression. Liberation of women was a core issue for the Kurdish freedom movement from the very beginning, Öcalan himself declared early on that there could be no free society as long as women were oppressed and therefore no free Kurdistan if women didn’t rise up and retake their freedom. When the first female volunteers turned up in the mountains to join the guerrilla however the male fighters tried to send them home or else do household work such as cooking and cleaning while the men went to war. It took decades of relentless struggle by the most courageous and committed revolutionaries such as Berîtan, Zîlan and many others before the right that they theoretically enjoyed in the movement became reality.
We must recall this when we are overly quick to dismiss the the revolution’s aims of a stateless and ecological society as empty promises. They are relatively new ideals. To make them into practices will take just as hard a struggle within the revolution and just as outstanding individuals as it took for freedom of women to develop from a slogan into revolutionary pratice. We must always remember that principles like grassroots democracy or social ecology are not implemented because they exist on a piece of paper. The fight for them is only just beginning.
The seminal document for understanding the theoretical underpinings of the social and political revolution in Rojava is Abdullah Ocalan’s booklet ‘Democratic Confederalism.’ Further analysis, but more explicitly about the situation in can be found in his ‘Road Map to Negotiations. Prison Writings Vol III’. 2012.
EXCLUSIVE: The Kurds’ Quest for a New Democracy
Written by KurdishQuestion.com
21 August 2015
by Duran Kalkan*
Following the declaration of autonomous cantons in Rojava (West) Kurdistan, Kurds are now trying to form and declare democratic self-governance in the cities and towns of North Kurdistan. The centralised ‘single power’ being enforced by the Ahmet Davutoglu government in Ankara is being countered in places like Silopi, Cizre, Varto, Silvan, Gever (Yuksekova), Lice, Nusaybin and across many Kurdish towns and cities with the people declaring their own free democratic will and defending it with active defence and resistance.
It is evident that this stance will continue spreading across North Kurdistan. The nation-state experience in South Kurdistan, which is having problems in regenerating itself and resolving its internal issues, is leading Kurds towards a quest for a new democracy. Moreover the AKP, which has portrayed itself as the last hope for the Turkish Republic, but whose line is no different from the old nationalist-statist mentality, and which continues its policy of enmity against Kurds, is another reason for this quest.
The Kurds experienced the theoretical quest and discussions for this situation in recent history. Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan’s ever intensifying theoretical search since the mid-nineties is well known. This led to the paradigm change in 2003, which opened the path for a new comprehension of revolution, program and strategy and uncovered an important intellectual solution, that can now be seen in practice with ones own eyes.
The democratic modernity theory developed by Abdullah Öcalan, which has at its foundations the democratic confederalism organisational model and the democratic autonomy solution is now the only alternative to resolve national and societal issues that have reached deadlock. This model for a solution, which relies on the state plus democratic society formula, puts forward practical solutions to all national, religious, identity issues as well as fundamental issues such as women’s liberation.
The Kurds unearthed this model for a solution within their struggle to resolve a complicated issue like the Kurdish question. In the beginning a very intense struggle was waged, especially by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), to resolve this question with a nation-state solution. But the realisation on one hand that the global capitalist system was not open to this solution and the problems encountered by the South Kurdistan nation-state model led the PKK and many other Kurdish organisations and groups to search for new approaches.
The concrete result reached by Kurds in their decades long quest is that the societal problems created by nation-state or state-nation models and there power-based, statist system do not provide a definite and lasting solution to these problems. This is because the state-nation models that are bound to a centralised administration and have borders cannot find solutions for any issue regarding freedoms. In this regard fundamental issues of freedoms such as national and religious as well as women’s issues are not resolved but instead deepened and reach deadlock.
The model developed by Kurds against this deadlock and cul-de-sac is the understanding and practice of the democratic nation. This replaces the state-nation’s monist and centralised model with a system based on plurality and local administration. Therefore the democratic nation line proposes a transparent and applicable model against the monist and centralist nation-statist model, which is the root cause of the deadlock.
At this point, the democratic modernity theory expresses the totality of the plural and local autonomous models. Isn’t true democracy essentially the desire for a multiple and plural administration? Again isn’t democracy the administration of the people by the people and their representatives whom they choose at every level? This is the solution model that the Kurds favour after a long arduous quest and discussions. Based on this, there can be no doubt that the Kurds have reached a true democratic mentality and politics.
For the past three years the Kurds have tried to implement this mentality and politics in Rojava Kurdistan. It is also what has made the Kurds an invincible and vanguard force against the former nation-state system and the fascistic ISIS attacks. If one looks carefully, it can be seen that the only area that has brought about solutions to the deep deadlock in Syria is Rojava Kurdistan.
Now the Kurds want to put into action this same positive and creative force for a solution in North Kurdistan. The process for developing democratic self-administrations at the local level and unearthing the will of the people against the Turkish state’s monist and centralist administration, which the AKP are trying to continue, has begun. Similarly the processes for the replacement of generals, security chiefs, province and district governors with locally elected officials at every level have also begun.
The steps taken for democratic autonomy by Kurds in North Kurdistan are without doubt like Rojava of historical importance. It is evident that these steps will get results in resolving the Kurdish question as well as evolving Turkey’s severe centralist and monist structure into a democratic one. In this regard the resolution of the Kurdish issue and the development of Kurdish democracy is also the democratisation of Turkey.
Due to this, the greatest resistance to the democracy developed by Kurds, is coming from fascist parties such as the MHP. It is clear that these parties as well as being against Kurdish existence are also against Turkey having a democratic government. The chauvinist-nationalist mindset and politics foresees national monism and a rigid centralist administration. On this basis the Kurds’ quest for a new democracy is under severe attack by Turkish fascists.
The attacks in question are the product of a severe and offensive psychological warfare. In this matter the President Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli have almost the same discourse and mentality. It is clear that they are implementing a policy that aims to deny and annihilate Kurdish existence.
Under the rule of these powers all the facilities of the Turkish state are being used in the war against the Kurds. The desire is to suffocate and crush the democratic self-administration declared in Kurdish towns with savage military attacks and break the democratic will of the people, rising from the grassroots. It is of utmost importance to resist and make sure that the ingenious ideas and heroic struggle of the Kurdish people to develop true democracy is not crushed under the Turkish state’s attacks.
In this regard the Kurdish people have a developed consciousness and organised will. Especially Kurdish youth and women have shown that they are ready to lead a democratic people’s resistance. Moreover the insistence on a free life and courage in struggle in the war against ISIS has been displayed for the world to see. The Kurds will display the same stance against the AKP’s fascism too. Esteemed novelist Yaşar Kemal once said, “Either true democracy, or nothing,” in relation to Turkey. For the Kurds there will be no life apart from constructing true democracy.
However this Kurdish will needs to be supported from Silopi to Gever, and in all the towns and cities of North Kurdistan, just like it was in Kobanê. This time the Kurds are expecting support from the democratic world and democratic humanity for the North. What the Kurds want is an administration that is elected from the grassroots. And this is a prerequisite for democracy. Therefore the stance displayed in the face of the democratic autonomy revolution in North Kurdistan is a litmus test for true democrats.
To show the right colour will mean a victory for everyone, for all of democratic humanity. Once more Kurds are not just resisting for themselves but for all of humanity and democratic values. Then it is the responsibility of everyone who stands for true democracy to support and defend this democratic resistance. This will take us to another victory for democracy!
Democratic Autonomy in Rojava
In the past 33 years, the Kurdish freedom struggle, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, have not only reacted to social changes but shaped them and proposed further steps in the direction of a liberated society.
Significantly, the PKK conceives the Kurdish question as an issue not of nation or ethnicity but of the liberation of society, of both sexes, and of all people. Öcalan’s book Sociology of Freedom is a kind of a road map for the liberation of Rojava and the entire Middle East, highlighting in detail steps toward freedom.
During our journeys through Rojava, we met many people who had close relationships to Öcalan and to others who have decisively participated in the PKK’s history. This ongoing contact has engendered a transformation in the region’s otherwise feudalistic social terrain. The women especially emphasized this connection—they have known about Kurdish women’s liberation ideology for more than twenty years and have been trying to implement it. Thanks to all the close interconnections within the Kurdish freedom movement, many people [from Rojava] joined the PKK and fought for it in North Kurdistan. So it is a mistake to see the PKK as strictly a North Kurdish phenomenon; this movement also belonged and belongs to tens of thousands of activists from Rojava.
Öcalan’s 1999 arrest, followed by the Assad regime’s intensified repression, gave rise to a period of reorganization in Rojava. After the regime’s 2004 massacre of Kurds in the city of Qamişlo and the subsequent uprising, this reorganization began to gain momentum, to the point of creating armed self-defense units. The leftist Party of Democratic Unity (PYD) had already been founded and quickly became a strong regional political force. Meanwhile new paradigms emerged from the Kurdish freedom movement and especially from Öcalan, inspired by the work of the libertarian theorist Murray Bookchin, whose model of democratic confederalism and democratic autonomy became a touchstone for the reorientation. Öcalan developed a critique of the history of actually existing socialist states and of national liberation movements, including the PKK itself. As an alternative to conceptions of revolution that strive for an armed uprising and seizure of power, he outlined a plan for a “democratic, ecological, gender-liberated society.” He introduced the concept of an “ethical and political society” that would be self-managed and would situate itself outside the lifeless, homogenous consumer society of capitalism.
Even before the rebellions in Syria began, the Kurds of Rojava had already created the first councils and committees and thereby began to institute a radical democratic organization of most of the region’s population. Starting on June 19, 2012, the cities of Kobanê, Afrîn, Dêrik, and many other places were one by one freed from regime control; the strength of the reorganization then revealed itself. Military bases were reconfigured, and the vastly outnumbered regime troops were offered the option of withdrawal. Only in Dêrik did the situation lead to a struggle, with a few casualties. But even here, as people in Dêrik told us, the new self-organization prevented violent attacks and acts of destruction and revenge.
Self-Defense and the “Third Way”
As we considered this phase and the politics of the Kurdish movement in Rojava, we also observed the implementation of another paradigm of Democratic Confederalism: self-defense and the primacy of nonviolent solutions. The Kurdish movement and especially the PYD were organized before the Syrian revolution began resisting the Assad regime. At that time they saw it as a matter of democratic transformation; a militarization of the conflict was to be avoided. But with the outbreak of war, Islamization, and the heteronomy of the Syrian revolt, the Kurdish movement in Rojava decided to go a third way: it would side neither with the regime nor with the opposition. It would defend itself, but it would not wage war. The movement has remained this politics up to the present [July 2014]. Thus in Qamişlo, in the quarters that were inhabited by regime supporters, regime military units were still tolerated. The same was true for the airport. The goal was and is always to reach a political, democratic solution for all of Syria.
The Commune as the Center of Society
“The creation of an operational level where all kinds of social and political groups, religious communities, or intellectual tendencies can express themselves directly in all local decision-making processes can also be called participative democracy.”
— Abdullah Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism (London, 2011), p. 26.
Democratic Confederalism has as its goal the autonomy of society: in other words, instead of the state governing society, a politicized society manages itself. As against capitalist modernity, it proposes democratic modernity. In Rojava, to make this system possible, the center of the social system became the commune. The commune, the self-management of the streets, would emerge as the hub of the society.
Decision making in the communes requires that quotas be met—that is, in order to make a decision, here and in all councils in Rojava, at least 40 percent of those who participate in the discussions must be women. In the communes, current issues of administration, energy, and food supply, as well as social problems like patriarchal violence, family conflicts, and much else, are discussed and if possible resolved. The communes have commissions that address all social questions, everything from the organization of defense to justice to infrastructure to youth to the economy and the construction of individual cooperatives—such as bakeries, clothing production, and agricultural projects. The ecology commissions concern themselves with urban sanitation as well as specifically ecological problems. At the forefront is the imperative to strengthen the social position of women: committees for women’s economy help women develop economic independence.
The commune, as the mala gel (people’s house), lends support in all questions; it is simultaneously an institution of support and a kind of court. Central to its processes is the ideal of agreement and compensation; for general offenses, the causes of an infraction are investigated and overcome, and the victim is protected. For patriarchal violence and all attacks that affect women, the mala jinan (women’s house) is in charge; it is attached to the women’s council, a parallel structure to the commune’s mixed-gender council.
As we ourselves could see, meanwhile, people of the most diverse identities take part in the communes, especially Arabs and Assyrians. The mala jinan likewise works to solve social problems and responsible for implementing the goals of women’s liberation. As much as possible, the councils prefer to vote by consensus. The communes send their representatives to their respective district councils and city councils, and the structure continues into the general council of Rojava.
Democratic Autonomy and the Nation-State
“Peaceful coexistence between the nation-state and democratic confederalism is possible, as long as the nation-state doesn’t interfere with central matters of self-administration. All such interventions would call for the self-defense of the civil society.”
–Abdullah Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism, p. 32.
Democratic Confederalism is a form of self-management and thus stands in contrast to the model of the state. It is an attempt at permanent social revolution, as is reflected in every facet of the social structure. Overcoming the nation-state is seen as a long-term goal. The state will be overcome when Democratic Confederalism in practice assumes all structures into its self-organization and self-management. In that society neither statist nor territorial boundaries will play a role.
Indeed, by virtue of the self-management of society, Democratic Confderalism renders the state and the nation-state redundant. In this social model the commune, the council, and the society are integrated, with the commune is the political center. In outward form the region of Rojava has chosen to follow the Swiss cantonal model, structuring itself in terms of the cantons’ far-reaching regional autonomy. Ideally the canton arises from the cooperation of the autonomous political councils. While the nation-state is based on social homogenization through the construction of identity and its reflexively coercive implementation, Democratic Confederalism is based on social diversity. Over the course of world history, the nation-state has been compromised by bloodshed.
In this region, typically only the Arabizing politics of Syria and the Turkicizing politics of Turkey were discussed. But Syria is home to Sunni and Shiite Arabs, Sunni Kurds, Assyrian Christians, Chaldeans, Yezidi Kurds, Armenians, Aramaeans, Chechens, Turkmens, and many other cultural, religious or ethnic groups. All these social groups should achieve representation through the council system with its corresponding quotas.
The commune, as the structure of self-management that directly binds to the neighborhood, must therefore be the center of political self-management. In order to raise the level of social organization, it provides educational forums for members of the commune, on topics like democratic self-determination and rights, women’s liberation, the history of Syria, the history of Kurdistan, the Kurdish language, and many other social issues.
On our journey in the region, we saw that the success in implementation varies from region to region. In many areas Arab councils and especially the Assyrians work very closely together with the Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM). Central positions are allocated to three or four co-chairpersons, who correspond to the social groups of the region.
The Highest Council, or Parliamentary Democracy?
While in many areas the Kurdish population already has decades of experience with the Kurdish movement’s concepts of women’s liberation and social freedom, here too there are of course also divergences. Some wish to organize in classical parties rather than in councils.
This problem has been solved in Rojava through a dual structure. On one hand a parliament is chosen, to which free elections under international supervision are to take place as soon as possible. This parliament forms a parallel structure to the councils; it forms a transitional government, in which all political and social groups are represented, while the council system forms a kind of parallel parliament. The structuring and rules of this collaboration are at the moment under discussion.
Closing the Gap
Mamosta Abdulselam, of TEV-DEM in Heseke, has explained the system of communes in Heseke. “There was a gap between the councils and the people—that’s why we developed the commune system,” says Mamosta Abdul. “There are 16 district councils here. On each council there are 15 to 30 people. About 50 houses form a commune. The communes are numerous—in each district there are about 10-30 communes with 15-30 persons each. The Mifte district in Heseke has 29 communes, while the neighboring district has 11 communes. Each district forms about 20 communes per 1,000 people. The 16 district councils are formed form the communes. One hundred and one people sit on Heseke’s city council. In addition the PYD has five representatives, as do five other parties. Families of the Fallen have five, Yekitiya Star has five, the Revolutionary Youth have five, and the Liberals have five. The district councils normally meet every two months. Twenty-one people are elected as the coordination. The leadership meetings take place once a month and as needed in special cases. Always at least 40 percent of the representatives are women and at least 40 percent are men. Decisions are made according to consensus principle. Care is taken that one person doesn’t dominate the proceedings. The co-chairs are elected. Members of the commune nominate them and then elect them.”
At the beginning of our stay in Rojava, Sirin Ibraham Ömer, a 45-year-old woman from the district of Hileli in Qamişlo, reported to us on women’s work in her commune.
“We are 60 active women in our commune. Once a week we do educational work—we read books together and then discuss them. Twice a month we visit other women and explain the tasks of the revolution. Many are much influenced by the logic of the state—they don’t see themselves as people who can manage their own affairs. They have many children, and there are many arguments at home. The children are outside on the street and play instead of going to school. We’re concerned about that. If a family has no income, we have a committee for that, to provide the basic foodstuffs.
The peace committee talks with the families. If there is violence in a family, the woman can get help from the Asayiş. In Hileli meanwhile it’s socially disapproved for a man to hit his wife—that’s all but come to a stop. In other districts it’s still present in places. Here it was usual for the television to be on 24 hours in an apartment, with Turkish broadcasts in Arabic language—that was a big problem. But when the energy suddenly went off, so did the TVs, and people’s minds were cleared to do something else.
Many women are married off very young, even as children, so that there will be no extramarital pregnancies. Now they see that education is good for them, that they can have a better life.
Once a week we go out and collect a little money—it’s a symbolic way to help. We distribute the weekly newspaper (Rohahi) —it’s very cheap, so everyone can read it. It appears in Arabic and Kurdish. When we all get together now, our topics are not gossip and chitchat as before, but political developments and the women’s organization. We know it all here in the district.
In many districts there are also so-called women’s houses. They aren’t women’s safe houses like in Germany, but houses where women can get together and educate one another and talk about heir problems. They frequently offer classes in computers, language, and sewing.
The most important work of the women’s houses is however to provide assistance against social sexism. “The women come to us, when they have a problem. Not only the Kurdish women but also the Arab women,” says a representative of the women’s houses, Serê Kaniyê.
We witnessed such an inquiry. Two older Arab women arrived and asked the women at the women’s house for help. “Through the commune system we know every family,” says Serê Kaniyê, “we know every family’s economic situation, and we know who hits his wife and his children. We go directly there and speak with those affected, until it gets to a solution.” She agrees on a date with the two women, to find a solution for their problem.
The commune is a place not only of self-organization but also of social conflict resolution. It concerns itself with social problems in the districts, support of poorer members of the commune, and the just distribution of fuel, bread, and foodstuffs. Meetings of the commune handle not only conflicts, the usual neighborhood fights, but also violence against children, and resolution is attempted. In Dêrik we attended a meeting of representatives of a commune: they were discussing the case of a family that had tied up a child. This behavior was now monitored and controlled. If the misbehavior continues, the children will be taken to a protected place.
This article was written by Michael Knapp, member of the Rojava delegation of Campaign TATORT Kurdistan. Translated by Janet Biehl. The original article appeared in the July-August 2014 issue of the German-language periodical Kurdistan Report: http://www.kurdistan-report.de/index.php/archiv/2014/174/154-ziel-ist-eine-demokratische-loesung-fuer-den-gesamten-mittleren-osten
The following interview was conducted in partnership between the Rojava Report and Dr. Dylan Murphy. Dylan Murphy is a historian and a trade union activist in the National Union of Teachers.
Özgür Amed is journalist, columnist, teacher, and activist from Diyarbakir, where he gives courses on cinema and works with local civil society organizations as a project coordinator. He writes regular editorials for the newspapers Özgür Gündem and Özgür Politika, contributes to various journals, assists foreign journalists working in Kurdistan, and provides analysis of the region to foreign media outlets. He also conducts research on the Kurdish movement and is the author of a book of humor entitled ‘Works of Kurdology’ (Kürdocul İşler). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Can you briefly explain the origin of the Rojava Cantons and the revolution more generally? When did they emerge and what is new about them?
The differences that this system presents is more clearly understood when one understands the reasons behind the revolution’s emergence and why it was necessary. Today the Rojava Revolution’s most important road map is the ‘Rojava Constitution.’ This constitution [also known as the ‘Social Contract’ – translator’s note] was formed and accepted by the Legislative Assembly of the Rojava Administration of Democratic Autonomy on January 6th, 2014 in the city of Amûdê in Rojava.
This is the document’s preamble:
“We the peoples of the democratic autonomous regions – Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians (Assyrian Chaldeans, Arameans), Turkmen, Armenians, and Chechens – by our free will have announced this contract to establish justice, freedom and democracy in accordance with the principle of ecological balance and equality without discrimination on the basis of religion, language, faith sect or gender; to realize the values of a democratic society and a life together based in a political and moral framework which promotes mutual understanding and coexistence within diversity; and to ensure the rights of women and children, protection, self-defense and the respect of the freedom of religion and belief.
The Administration of the Democratic Autonomous Regions does not accept any understanding based on the concept of the nation-state, nor the concept of a military or religious state, nor does it accept centralized administration or centralized power. The Administration of the Democratic Autonomous regions is open to social consensus, democracy and pluralism whereby all ethnic, social, cultural and national formations can express themselves through their own organizations.The Administration of the Democratic Autonomous Regions is committed to national and international peace and respectful of the borders of Syria and of human rights.”
Given this one must ask: Is there a better system than this system? If we are going to speak about human rights, democracy and freedom is there an alternative to what is expressed in the preamble to this constitution? Is there a better claim to governance in the Middle East? No…and yet the difficulty comes in struggling for something one believes in no matter what the cost. And it is here that the difference in this system lies.
So, how did we come to this situation and from where did the revolution emerge?
Syria, which lost its war with France in 1920 and remained under French colonial rule for 26 years, regained its independence in 1946. From this date until the 1970’s the country experienced a period of chaos marked by repeated coups and the failure of the United Arab Republic (1958-61) which only ended with the Baath coup and the beginning of the new regime.
One of the first tasks undertaken by this regime was to revoke the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Kurds. The children born to these Kurds lacked all rights and protections and were socially isolated. From the moment the Assad family came to power in 1971 until today Kurdish identity has remained under the threat of a cultural and political genocide. Many dictatorial governments, once considered indestructible, fell apart with the emergence of the ‘Arab Spring,’ which did so much to speed up the flow of history in the Middle East and has been the cause of such tumult. The lack of a pioneering and democratic structure that might have channeled the political and justified social anger of the people who came out into the streets against the authoritarian and autocratic governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries led to widespread chaos. International and regional powers, which tried to channel the accumulated historical rage of the people who came out into the streets for democracy and freedom for their own benefits moved to intervene in the Arab Spring. This is particularly true in the Syrian civil war, where the hopes of the people for freedom and democracy were destroyed by reactionary powers. However the people of Rojava, who within Syria had been long since cast off into a bottomless well and who for years had experienced the worst of denialist and assimilationist policies, were able to turn the ‘Arab Spring’ into the revolution of the Democratic Nation owing to a pioneering and democratic force that was the accumulation of decades of prior resistance.
Rojava, which is the smallest part of [divided] Kurdistan, introduced the Rojava Revolution to the world from Kobanê on July 19th, 2012. The fate of the 3 million Kurds, who had for many years long lived under occupation by the Syrian regime, entered a new era in the form of a rebellion against the nation-state, in which it had undergone so many important developments and reformations, and against the nation-state status quo which had spread to every corner of the globe.
The cantons themselves were formed a short while later following the acceptance of the constitution. The Cizîre Canton was officially proclaimed on January 21 (2014), the Kobanê Canton on January 27th and the Efrîn Canton on January 29th. The Democratic Autonomous Canton Administrations (Cizîrê, Kobanê and Efrîn) remain a part of Syrian territory. In every canton there exists a Legislative Assembly, an Executive Assembly, a High Election Commission, a Constitutional Assembly and Regional Assemblies. These are formed from various local units. These cantons do not involve themselves with any of the tasks of a state, they defend the rights of local communities and take as the principle the resolution of problems through peaceful means. Once more each of these cantons has the right to its own flag, emblem and anthem.
2. Who are the forces defending Kobanê? How have they been able to defend the city from ISIS which is much better armed?
Today Kobanê’s official defense force is the People,s Defense Units (YPG) which was formed in 2004 and officially declared in 2011 and the Women’s Defense Force (YPJ) which was formed independently and in association [with the YPG]. These are the two military forces which are responsible for the self-defense of the whole of Rojava.
The heaviest attack on Kobanê to date began on September 10th, 2014 and was declared an official battle on September 15th and continues to this day. Over the course of this battle various other forces joined in the defense of Kobanê and we still observe them fighting there. One of the most important of these is a group known as El Ekrad (Cebhet’ül Ekrad in Arabic) or the ‘Kurdish Front.’ They began as a part of the Free Syrian Army during the Syrian Civil War and later separated. Over the last couple of months Peshmerga fighters [the official armed forces of the KRG – translator’s note] are also there. 150 Peshmerga fighters went to Kobanê following a decision of the [South] Kurdistan parliament. Not only these forces, but also groups such as the Ehrar Syria, the Siwar El Raqa (Şoreşgerê Reqa), Şems-î Şîmal are fighting in Kobanê. This to say that not only Kurds are fighting in Kobanê. There is a war of the peoples. There are also revolutionary groups from Turkey there. The MLKP is one of these…there are fighters from all over the world. There are also people from America, Holland and Africa which have come as individuals to join the fight. These are the forces taking part in the battle.
A war can be lost when one puts down their weapons. It can be lost when one loses their hope or faith. According to the fighters themselves one of the most important sources of motivation is the great injustice that is being perpetrated there. It is the knowledge that if it not confronted today it will grow much larger tomorrow.
3. Much has been made of ISIS’s barbaric attitudes toward women. At the same time women face violence and oppression all over the world. What role have women had in the Rojava revolution?
There is a reality which has already been expressed by Asya Abdullah, the co-President of the Democratic Unity Party (PYD). [The PYD is the largest political party in Rojava and the Syrian member of the transnational KCK, an umbrella body coordinating the Kurdish movement throughout the Middle East and in Europe – translator’s note]. She said that “when the revolution began Kurdish women took part with all their might.” This is to say Kurdish women were already engaged in struggle before the revolution began in Rojava and had organized in all spheres of life. This is to say that when the revolution began Kurdish women were ready. They took part in the revolution having already prepared for it. We can say that Kurdish women led the Rojava revolution. Women have a part in every decision taken in Rojava. The color of the Rojava revolution is the color of women.
Women in Rojava have led this revolution and are leading in the conflict that continues to this day. An example is one of the symbols of the Kobanê resistance: Arîn Mîrkan. It is women and children who suffer the most in war. Right now ISIS is selling women from Sinjar in their slave markets and this is happening in the 21st century! Their attacks target women systematically. War thereby affects them twice over. Therefore when one considers all of these factors the role that women have in the revolution and the reason they can be found on the front lines becomes clearer.
The women who are fighting define this revolution and this resistance as the possibility to ‘breath.’ These women are not only fighting for the rights and organization of women in the Middle East but all over the world. They always underline this when they express themselves. A woman fighter in Kobanê is protecting the rights of a woman in Diyarbakir and the rights of a working woman in New Jersey and contributes to their struggle.
If today the entire world is speaking about the the fighting Kurdish woman there is a depth, an historical program and a great struggle behind this. Most have been speaking about the ‘Women’s battalions.’ The first all-women’s battalion in Rojava was the ‘Martyr Ruken Battalion’ formed on March 5th, 2013 in Efrîn and after that the organization quickly spread around Rojava. The formation of these battalions, which first took place in secret, is now occurring everywhere quite openly.
4. Participation in US elections is at historic lows and this phenomenon is prevalent across much of the world. What model of democracy is being implemented in Rojava and how has it worked to empower ordinary people?
The model which has emerged in Rojavais the system of ‘Democratic Autonomy.’ If the democratic nation is its spirit, democratic autonomy is its body. Democratic autonomy is the state by which the construction of the democratic nation comes to take on flesh and bone and is realised concretely.
A short summary of this system’s essentials goes like this: The source of power is the people and it is the people who possess the power. Administration is conducted for by organizations and assemblies chosen by elections. No government can remain outside or above the Social Contract established by the Administration of Democratic Autonomy and be considered legitimate. The source of the assemblies and governing bodies founded on a democratic foundation is the people. No body which acts by itself or in the interest of a single group is acceptable.
In sociology and philosophy ‘autonomy’ has the opposite meaning of the Latin-rooted concept of ‘authority’, and in political science it has opposite meaning of ‘heteronomy.’ The concept comes from the combination of the Greek ‘autos’ (self) and ‘nomos’ (law, norm , rule) and from this root it has taken on a meaning of ‘making one’s own law’ or ‘being subject to one’s own law. ’ What exists in Rojava is foremost a form of ‘political autonomy.’ Political autonomy here means fundamentally the transfer of executive and legislative powers in a constitutional and participatory manner from the central state to regional bodies chosen democratically in a manner which sufficiently protects cultural and ethnic minorities living in their traditional homelands. We are talking about a model which when the Syrian Civil War was beginning found its own way (its 3rd way theory) without taking sides and demanded to govern itself using its own means and resources; a model which favors the will of a society as a political whole and a system which it develops itself; and a model which for the sake of this system is now preoccupied with combating the greatest savagery in the world today. And the peoples who believe in this [model] are now fighting together on the same front. Armenians, Assyrians, Arabs, Turks and many other peoples have declared their desire to live freely under this model and have become the drivers of this revolution.
5. The capitalist world is still recovering from the 2008 economic crisis and wealth-inequality is increasing in many places around the globe. What economic alternatives are being proposed in Rojava?
The economic pillar has been an essential part of the Rojava revolution! It defends an autonomous economic model and is working to put it into practice. Capitalism has surrounded everyone and everything, and in a century in which it is difficult to breath and where we are seemingly bereft of alternatives an exit is now being discovered through an alternative economic model and a communal economy. Dr. Ahmet Yusuf, the Economic Minister of the Efrîn Canton, made some important remarks recently at conference held on the ‘Democratic Autonomous Economy.’ He said “We take as a principle the protection and defense of natural resources. What we mean by defense is not defense in a military sense, but the self-defense against the exploitation and oppression which society now faces. There are many obstacles to restructuring the communal economy in Rojava. Systems which take capitalist systems as their reference have attempted to to obstruct our progress in the economic as well as the social spheres. We ourselves take the communal economy for our principal. We are working to create a system which combines anti-liberalism, ecological sustainability, and moral common property with communal and cultural production.”
One of the foundational arguments coming out against this in Rojava is the reality that all modes of production and relations of production are based on a foundation of hierarchy and class. This
is to say that the claim that labor is being liberated hides how the system of hegemony and colonialism comes to govern in an implicit but even more active manner.
This revolution is developing cooperatives based on a social economy as its economic alternative. For example any companies which will come to Rojava will take a place in the service of these cooperatives. The communes will be a primary force within the people’s assemblies. The cooperatives which are founded are being given enough space within the economic sphere to sustain themselves. The strength exists in the three cantons to found an economy along a socialized principle in the agriculture, livestock, industry and service sectors.
The ‘Economic Development Organization’ which has been founded in Rojava is an organization which deserves to be watched carefully. It is directing the projects that are building an independent economy. It is carrying on its activities around 6 main headings – commerce, service, construction, agriculture, industry and fuel….this system has so far managed to rely entirely on its own strength!
6. Discrimination based on ethnicity or race is common throughout much of the world, and violence against minorities is increasing in many places. How does the model in Rojava project minorities?
In order to understand and to give meaning to the policy around minorities in Rojava we can explain better by focusing on three small examples under three principal headings.
The first is the issue of ‘faith.’ Right now we see a fundamentalist radicalism spreading out through the Middle East. Hegemonic and centralizing powers want to homogenize the Middle East, which has been a garden of peoples. The only place where this is being resisted at present is the Rojava region and its cantons. For example Rojava is one if not the only place [in Syria] where churches have not been destroyed, faiths can be practiced freely and guarantees have been secured from the government.
The second is the ‘government’ factor. In the co-presidency of every canton there is a minority. They have guarantees in the Rojava Constitution by which to express and defend themselves and their rights, and to speak their native languages and to work to protect and develop them.
The third is the ‘war’ factor. Arabs, Armenians, Syriacs and many members of other minorities are fighting on the front in the current conflict. They have taken up weapons and are fighting to defend this model. This is something important. To mobilize and take sides in a war for freedom without being forced to but as a matter of trust and faith.
When we collect all these different elements together we are left with some hard data on the question of ‘How must we live together?’ This is the reason that today there is talk of the ‘Revolution of the Peoples’ in the battle of Kobanê and all over Rojava. Assyrians, Syriacs, Armenians, Chaldeans and other peoples living in Rojava are taking ownership of the Rojava Revolution. The system which is being proclaimed is a system of the peoples. The lawyer and President of the Christian Minorities Administration Cemil Abdulehed provides an authoritative summary of the situation when he says “we also are seeing that we are part of a system in which everyone’s own language, culture, faith and color can have its place. We are working to put this system into place.” In the Rojava Constitution you cannot find any reference to or stress laid upon any ethnic or religious allegiance.
7. Following ISIS advances in Syria and Iraq many neo-conservatives and Republicans have called for a return of US soldiers to the Middle East. Are US soldiers needed on the ground in Syria or Iraq?
I believe that before coming to the question of whether or not American soldiers are needed in Iraq or Syria one needs to ask ‘What is the task of American soldiers in Syria and Iraq?’ There is well known policy of ‘divide et impera’ That is divide and rule! Up until now this is more or less what has been going on. If we look at the problem focusing not on the results but on the process we see that one of the biggest reasons for what is happening today is the United States and its Middle East policy. ISIS is a also a result of this policy. The intervention of the United States in Kobanê came in conjunction with the beginning of ISIS’s complete takeover of the oil-producing regions in Southern Kurdistan [in Northern Iraq]. In fact Rear Admiral John Kirby has admitted this in his official capacity as Pentagon Spokesperson.
The United States claims to bring freedom. In my life I have never seen such bloody freedom! The presence of those soldiers here has been nothing other than getting people to accept the bad to avoid the worst. Because these countries already possess the mindset and the past needed to solve their own internal problems. But everything has been driven so far off course and made so chaotic that the United States, which pushes itself as the only political-economic power capable of producing a solution, can become the apostle of freedom. This is a form of hegemony.
8. Critics of US foreign policy have claimed that US foreign had a role in the development of ISIS, and that initially that their only concern was the removal of Assad. Would you agree with this view? What is responsible for the rise of ISIS?
In particular I would like to touch upon the rise of ISIS. One of the greatest factors in its rise was its production as a ‘phenomenon.’ Every news story produced in the media about it was at the same time a kind of support for it. ISIS describes itself as anti-modern. But you can come and see how it is modern enough to use scenes from the Oscar-winner ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ Their videos of death and killing have been shot in HD and have effects that take hours of work. Everything is like a video game fantasy. The words of an English youth nicknamed ‘Ebu Sümeyye El-Britani’ have been widely circulated. He is supposed to have said that “fighting on the frontline in Syria is much better than playing the computer game Call of Duty.’ This is the socio-psychological side of this ‘phenomenon.’
As historical background the Afghanistan War experiment is important. Since the occupation of Afghanistan following September 11th and the Iraq War, moreover, the United States continues to protect the underground riches and the important deals which it has made with other states around them. ISIS has used the current chaos to attract thousands of fighters. In breaking its social ties with Al-Nusra and Al-Qaida and expanding its field of effective operations it also increased its ability to grow and find supporters. In this context it reference to itself through Islam and its ideological work to create a Jihadist image for itself made its propaganda work easier. Because in this way it has been able to draw thousands of people from Europe simply through the growing Islamaphobia there…
Another reason for the rise of ISIS was its gradual recognition as the kind of organization capable of killing and carrying out all kinds of massacres. And this factor was not thought about or debated enough and therefore no precautions were taken. This organization has entered into our lives to a much greater extent that any classic fundamentalist organization in the Middle East. And it did this by relying on a certain kind of ideology. For example in rationalizing decapitations it was employing a reference strong enough to attract thousands of people to its ranks. This was not sufficiently analyzed…and when this began to attract attention it was too late…
However the biggest force behind the growth of ISIS was the economy. The network of relationships which it derived from the past, that is from the culture that grew up around Al-Qaida, includes an enormous amount of support from the Arab Gulf. It is also important to point out how following its occupation of Mosul and its capture of an area rich in natural resources it became an oil producer. US Secretary of State John Kerry has confirmed that Turkey is among the countries buying oil from ISIS.
Now coming to the issue of Assad, the United States, and ISIS…I don’t believe that the United States ignored anything. They were entirely aware of ISIS and its rise. If it works towards its own interests they could work together with them tomorrow or the next day, and no one should be surprised by this. ISIS and similar groups function to keep the United States in the region. Today it is ISIS, tomorrow it will be something else. In this sense ISIS is just a mask. When it’s gone they will leave another organization with another form in its place.
9. Some people on the left have made comparisons between the situation in Kobanê and the Spanish Civil War when thousands of anti-fascists from all over the world went to fight against fascism. Do think that this a valid comparison?
All resistances in history resemble each. The resistance in Kobanê has been most identified [among commentators in the Kurdish movement – translator’s note] with the battle of Stalingrad. But if you ask me it most closely resembles the war of Algerian independence. Or take his holiness Hussein’s fight with Yazid the 1st, or the struggles of Sheikh Bedreddin or John Ball, or Warsaw’s fearless resistance against the German’s – each one was an experiment for Kobanê.
In every place where there is such resistance only the time and location changes. The essence is the same! What goes on the in the course of the battle is the same. The attitudes of the enemy, its motivation to destroy is the same.. Fascism’s universality derives from this.
I will say that there are similarities between the international anti-fascist solidarity that emerged during the Spanish Civil War and around Kobanê. When we look at Spain in 1936, Russia in 1940, Italy in 1941, France in 1942, Cuba in 1954 and many other historical resistances we will see close resembles between the people fighting on the frontlines.
10. What can ordinary people across the world do to support the ongoing revolution in the Rojava Cantons?
The most important is thing people can do is to show support for the recognition of the cantons and their autonomous structures. Right now the events in Rojava and its justified struggle which has become such a central political issue must be understood clearly. Lives have been lost in every step taken toward the democratic values which are emerging there.
The second thing is to show revolutionary solidarity. It has become clear that we are obligated to do so. ISIS is attempting to slip in on every side. In my opinion there is a similar threat to every place which rejects the nation-state model. We all see differences in the methods employed.
The third thing is to establish diplomatic relations. Rojava should not be isolated politically. Because it is not only developments in the Middle East that are affecting events there. Rojava is the target of many other countries, and in particular Turkey. The other day the President [of Turkey Tayyip Erdoğan] said that “the formation of the cantons is a threat to our country.” In all reality it is impossible to understand how they constitute such a threat. With every diplomatic step taken this kind of discourse will die down a little. Because the Rojava revolution is a people’s revolution and it is a struggle for the construction of democracy. It is a fight for freedom and not some cover for anything else. It is within this framework that support must be given.
The Constitution of the Rojava Cantons
The Social Contract of Rojava Cantons in Syria
We, the people of the Democratic Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane, a confederation of Kurds, Arabs, Syrics, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens, freely and solemnly declare and establish this Charter.
In pursuit of freedom, justice, dignity and democracy and led by principles of equality and environmental sustainability, the Charter proclaims a new social contract, based upon mutual and peaceful coexistence and understanding between all strands of society. It protects fundamental human rights and liberties and reaffirms the peoples’ right to self-determination.
Under the Charter, we, the people of the Autonomous Regions, unite in the spirit of reconciliation, pluralism and democratic participation so that all may express themselves freely in public life. In building a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs, the Charter recognizes Syria’s territorial integrity and aspires to maintain domestic and international peace.
In establishing this Charter, we declare a political system and civil administration founded upon a social contract that reconciles the rich mosaic of Syria through a transitional phase from dictatorship, civil war and destruction, to a new democratic society where civic life and social justice are preserved.
I General principles
The Charter of the Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira, and Kobane, [hereinafter “the Charter”], is a renewed social contract between the peoples of the Autonomous Regions. The Preamble is an integral part of the Charter.
a- Authority resides with and emanates from the people of the Autonomous Regions. It is exercised by governing councils and public institutions elected by popular vote.
b- The people constitute the sole source of legitimacy all governing councils and public institutions, which are founded on democratic principles essential to a free society.
a – Syria is a free, sovereign and democratic state, governed by a parliamentary system based on principles of decentralization and pluralism.
b – The Autonomous Regions is composed of the three cantons of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane, forming an integral part of the Syrian territory. The administrative centers of each Canton are: Afrin city, Canton of Afrin; Qamishli city, Canton of Jazira; Kobane city, Canton of Kobane.
c – The Canton of Jazira is ethnically and religiously diverse, with Kurdish, Arab, Syriac, Chechen, Armenian, Muslim, Christian and Yazidi communities peacefully co-existing in brotherhood. The elected Legislative Assembly represents all three Cantons of the Autonomous Regions.
The Structure of governance in the Autonomous Regions
1- Legislative Assembly
2 – Executive Councils
3 – High Commission of Elections
4 – Supreme Constitutional Courts
5 – Municipal/Provincial Councils
The administrative centers of each Canton are:
Qamishli city, Canton of Jazira;
Afrin city, Canton of Afrin;
Kobane City, Canton of Kobane.
All persons and communities are equal in the eyes of the law and in rights and responsibilities.
All cities, towns and villages in Syria which accede to this Charter may form Cantons falling within Autonomous Regions.
All Cantons in the Autonomous Regions are founded upon the principle of local self-government. Cantons may freely elect their representatives and representative bodies, and may pursue their rights insofar as it does not contravene the articles of the Charter.
The official languages of the Canton of Jazira are Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac. All communities have the right to teach and be taught in their native language.
The Autonomous Regions shall not interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries, and it shall safeguard its relations with neighboring states, resolving any conflicts peacefully.
The Autonomous Regions have the right to be represented by their own flag, emblems and anthem. Such symbols shall be defined in a law.
The Autonomous Regions form an integral part of Syria. It is a model for a future decentralized system of federal governance in Syria.
II Basic Principles
There shall be a separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary.
The Autonomous Regions shall seek to implement a framework of transitional justice measures. It shall take steps to redress the legacy of chauvinistic and discriminatory State policies, including the payment of reparations to victims, both individuals and communities, in the Autonomous Regions.
The People’s Protection Units (YPG) is the sole military force of the three Cantons, with the mandate to protect and defend the security of the Autonomous Regions and its peoples, against both internal and external threats. The People’s Protection Units act in accordance with the recognized inherent right to self-defense. Power of command in respect of the People’s Protection Units is vested in the Body of Defense through its Central Command. Its relation to the armed forces of the central Government shall be defined by the Legislative Assembly in a special law.
The Asayish forces are charged with civil policing functions in the Autonomous Regions.
If a court or any other public body considers that a provision conflicts with a provision of a fundamental law or with a provision of any other superior statute, or that the procedure prescribed was set aside in any important respect when the provision was introduced, the provision shall be nullified.
The Charter guarantees the rights of the youth to participate actively in public and political life.
Unlawful acts and omissions and the appropriate penalties are defined by criminal and civil law.
The system of taxation and other fiscal regulations are defined by law.
The Charter holds as inviolable the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in international human rights treaties, conventions and declarations.
III Rights and Liberties
The Charter incorporates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as other internationally recognized human rights conventions.
All international rights and responsibilities pertaining civil, political, cultural, social and economical rights are guaranteed.
a – Everyone has the right to express their ethnic, cultural, linguistic and gender rights
b – Everyone has the right to live in a healthy environment, based on ecology balance.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Freedom of expression and freedom of information may be restricted having regard to the security of the Autonomous Regions, public safety and order, the integrity of the individual, the sanctity of private life, or the prevention and prosecution of crime.
a- Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.
b- All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
c- Prisoners have the right to humane conditions of detention, which protect their inherent dignity. Prisons shall serve the underlying objective of the reformation, education and social rehabilitation of prisoners.
Every human being has the inherent right to life. No one within the jurisdiction of the Autonomous Regions shall be executed.
Women have the inviolable right to participate in political, social, economic and cultural life.
Men and women are equal in the eyes of the law. The Charter guarantees the effective realization of equality of women and mandates public institutions to work towards the elimination of gender discrimination.
The Charter guarantees the rights of the child. In particular children shall not suffer economic exploitation, child labor, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and shall not be married before attaining the age of majority.
All persons have the right
1. to personal security in a peaceful and stable society.
2. to free and compulsory primary and secondary education.
3. to work, social security, health, adequate housing.
4. to protect the motherhood and maternal and pediatric care.
5. to adequate health and social care for the disabled, the elderly and those with special needs.
Everyone has the right to freedom of worship, to practice one’s own religion either individually or in association with others. No one shall be subjected to persecution on the grounds of their religious beliefs.
a)- Everyone has the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to establish and freely join any political party, association, trade union and/or civil assembly.
b) – In exercising the right to freedom of association, political, economic and cultural expression of all communities is protected. This serves to protect the rich and diverse heritage of the peoples of the Autonomous Regions.
c) – The Yazidi religion is a recognized religion and its adherents’ rights to freedom of association and expression is explicitly protected. The protection of Yazidi religious, social and cultural life may be guaranteed through the passage of laws by the Legislative Assembly.
Everyone has the freedom to obtain, receive and circulate information and to communicate ideas, opinions and emotions, whether orally, in writing, in pictorial representations, or in any other way.
Everyone has the right of peaceful assembly, including the right to peaceful protect, demonstration and strike.
Everyone has the right to freely experience and contribute to academic, scientific, artistic and cultural expressions and creations, through individual or joint practice, to have access to and enjoy, and to disseminate their expressions and creations.
Everyone has the right to vote and to run for public office, as circumscribed by law.
Everyone has the right to seek political asylum. Persons may only be deported following a decision of a competent, impartial and properly constituted judicial body, where all due process rights have been afforded.
All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal opportunities in public and professional life.
Natural resources, located both above and below ground, are the public wealth of society. Extractive processes, management, licensing and other contractual agreements related to such resources shall be regulated by law.
All buildings and land in the Autonomous Regions are owned by the Transitional Administration are public property. The use and distribution shall be determined by law.
Everyone has the right to the use and enjoyment of his private property. No one shall be deprived of his property except upon payment of just compensation, for reasons of public utility or social interest, and in the cases and according to the forms established by law.
The economic system in the provinces shall be directed at providing general welfare and in particular granting funding to science and technology. It shall be aimed at guaranteeing the daily needs of people and to ensure a dignified life. Monopoly is prohibited by law. Labor rights and sustainable development are guaranteed.
Everyone has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence within the Autonomous Regions.
The enumeration of the rights and freedoms set forth in Section III is non-exhaustive.
The Democratic Self-rule Administration Project
IV Legislative Assembly
The Legislative Assembly in the Autonomous Region is elected by the people by direct, secret ballot, and the duration of the course is four (4) years.
The first meeting of the Legislative Assembly shall be held no later than the 16th day following the announcement of the final results of elections in all Autonomous Regions. Such results will be certified and announced by the Higher Commission of Elections.
The President of the Transitional Executive Council will convene the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly. If compelling reasons dictate that its first meeting cannot be so held, the President of the Transitional Executive Council will determine another date to be held within fifteen days.
Quorum is met by fifty + one (50+1%) percent attendants of the total. The oldest member of the Legislative Assembly will chair its first meeting at which the Co-Presidents and Executive Council will be elected.
The sessions of the Legislative Assembly are public unless necessity demands otherwise. The movement of the Legislative Assembly into closed session is governed by its rules of procedure.
There shall be one member of the Supreme Legislature Council per fifteen thousand (15,000) registered voters residing within the Autonomous Region. The Legislative Assembly must be composed of at least forty per cent (40%) of either sex according to the electoral laws. The representation of the Syriac community, as well as youth representation in the election lists, is governed by electoral laws.
1- No member of the Legislative Assembly may run for more than two consecutive terms.
2 – The term of the Legislative Assembly may be extended in exceptional cases at the request of one quarter (¼) of its members or at the request of the Office of the President of the Council, with the consent of two-thirds (⅔) of the members of the Council. Such extension shall be for no longer than six (6) months.
Every person who has reached the age of eighteen (18) years is eligible to vote. Candidates for the Legislative Assembly must have attained the age of twenty-two (22) years. Conditions for candidacy and election are stipulated by electoral law.
Members of the Legislative Assembly enjoy immunity in respect of acts and omissions carried out in the function of official duties. Any prosecutions require the authorization of the Legislative Assembly, with the exception of flagrante crime. At the earliest opportunity, the Office of the President of the Council shall be informed of all pending prosecutions.
No member, during his term of office, is permitted any public, private, or other profession. Such employment is suspended once he makes the constitutional oath. He has the right to return to his job, with all its rights and benefits, once his membership ends.
Local Councils in each province of the Autonomous Regional shall be formed through direct elections.
The functions of the Legislative Assembly are to:
– Establish rules and procedures governing the work of the Legislative Assembly.
– Enact legislation and proposed regulations for the Local Councils and other institutions, including permanent and ad hoc committees, under its purview.
– Exercise control over administrative and executive bodies, including use of powers of review.
– Ratification of international treaties and agreements.
– Delegate its powers to the Executive Council or to one of its members and thereafter to withdraw such powers.
– Declare a State of war and peace.
– Ratify the appointment of members of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
– Adopt the general budget.
– Establish general policy and development plans.
– Approve and grant amnesty.
– Adopt decrees promulgated by the Executive Council; and
– Adopt laws for the common governance of the Provincial Councils of the Autonomous Regions.
Part V Executive Council
A- The Canton Premier, together with the Executive Council of the Autonomous Regions, hold executive authority as set forth in this Charter.
B- The candidate to the post of Canton Premier must.
1- Be over thirty-five years of age;
2- Be a Syrian citizen and a resident of the canton; and
3- Have no convictions or cautions.
C- The procedure governing the candidacy and election of Canton Premier:
1- Within 30 days of the first session of the Legislative Assembly, its President must call for the election of the Canton Premiers.
2- Requests to nominate candidates for the position of Canton Premier must be made, in writing, to the Supreme Court which shall examine and accept or reject not later than ten (10) days after the close of nominations.
3- The Legislative Assembly shall elect the Canton Premier by a simple majority.
4- If no candidate receives the required simple majority, a second electoral round is initiated, with the candidate receiving the highest number of votes, being elected.
5- The term of Canton Premier is four (4) years from the date of the taking of the Oath of Office;
6- The Canton Premier makes the Oath of Office before the Legislative Assembly before commencing official duties.
7- The Canton Premier appointed one or more Deputies, approved by the Legislative Assembly. The Deputies take an Oath of Office before the Canton Premier, after which specified functions may be delegated to them.
8- Should the Canton Premier be unable to fulfill his official functions, one of his Deputies shall replace him. Where the Canton Premier and the Deputies are unable to fulfill their duties for any reason, the tasks of the Canton Premier will be carried out by the President of the Legislative Assembly; and
9- The Governor must address any letter of resignation to the Legislative Assembly.
D- The powers and functions of the Canton Premier:
1- The Canton Premier shall ensure respect for the Charter and the protection of the national unity and sovereignty, and at all times performing his functions to the best of ability and conscience.
2- The Canton Premier shall appoint the President of the Executive Council.
3- The Canton Premier shall implement laws passed by the Legislative Assembly, and issue decisions, orders and decrees in accordance with those laws.
4- The Canton Premier must invite the newly elected Legislative Assembly to convene within fifteen (15) days from the announcement of the election results;
5- The Canton Premier may grant medals.
6- The Canton Premier may issue amnesties as recommended by the President of the Executive Council.
E- The Canton Premier is responsible to the people through his representatives in the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly has the right to bring him before the Supreme Constitutional Court for charges of treason and other forms of sedition.
The Executive Council:
The Executive Council is the highest executive and administrative body in the Autonomous Regions. It is responsible for the implementation of laws, resolutions and decrees as issued by the Legislative Assembly and judicial institutions. It shall coordinate the institutions of the Autonomous Regions.
The Executive Council is composed of a Chairman, representatives and committees.
The party or bloc winning a majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly shall form the Executive Council within one month from the date of assignment, with the approval of the simple majority (51%) of the members of the Legislative Assembly.
The Head of the Executive Council shall not serve more than two consecutive terms, each term being four (4) years in length. Article 58 The Head of the Executive Council may choose advisers amongst the newly elected members of the Legislative Council.
Each adviser shall be responsible for one of the bodies within the Executive Council.
The work of the Executive Council, including the Departments, and their relation to other institutions/committees is regulated by law.
After the formation and approval of the Executive Council, it shall issue its prospective Program for Government. Following its passage through the Legislative Assembly, the Executive Council is obliged to implement the Program of Government during that legislative term.
Senior civil servants and Department representatives shall be nominated by the Executive Council and approved by the Legislative Council.
Provincial Administrative Councils [Municipal Councils]:
1- The Cantons of the Autonomous Regions are composed of Provincial Administrative Councils [Municipal Councils] and are managed by the relevant Executive Council which retains the power to amend its functions and regulations;
2- The powers and duties of the Provincial Administrative Councils [Municipal Councils] are founded upon an adherence to a policy of decentralization. The Canton’s supervision of the Provincial Administrative Councils’ [Municipal Councils’] authority, including its budget and finance, public services and mayoral elections are regulated by law.
3- Provincial Administrative Councils [Municipal Councils] are directly elected by the public, using secret ballot.
Part VI The Judicial Council:
The independence of the Judiciary is founding principle of the rule of law, which ensures a just and effective disposition of cases by the competent and impartial courts.
Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until and unless proved guilty by a competent and impartial court.
All institutions of the Judicial Council must be composed of at least forty per cent (40%) of either sex.
The right to defense is sacred and inviolable at all stages of an investigation and trial.
The removal of a Judge from office requires a decision from the Judicial Council.
Judgments and judicial decisions are issued on behalf of the people.
Failure to implement judicial decisions and orders is a violation of law.
No civilian shall stand trial before any military court or special or ad hoc tribunals.
Searches of houses and other private property must be done in accordance with a properly executed warrant, issued by a judicial authority.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.
Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention or otherwise suffered damage or harm as a result of the acts and omissions of public authorities has an enforceable right to compensation.
The Judicial Council is established by law.
VII The Higher Commission of Elections
The Higher Commission of Elections is an independent body competent to oversee and run the electoral process. It is composed of 18 members, representing all cantons, who are appointed by the Legislative Assembly.
1. Decisions in the Commission require a qualified majority of eleven (11) votes.
2. Member of the Higher Commission of Elections may not stand for office in the Legislative Assembly.
3. The Higher Commission of Elections determines the date on which elections are held, the announcement of the results, and receive the nominations of eligible candidates for the Legislative Assembly.
4. As stated in paragraph 51, the Higher Commission of Elections verifies the eligibility of candidates seeking election to the Legislative Assembly. The Higher Commission of Elections is the sole body competent to receive allegations of electoral fraud, voter intimidation or illegal interference with the process of an election.
5. The Higher Commission of Elections is monitored by the Supreme Court and may be monitored by observers from the United Nations and civil society organizations.
6. The Higher Commission of Elections, together with the Judicial Council, shall convene a meeting of all candidates seeking election to the Legislative Assembly to announce the names of eligible candidates.
VIII The Supreme Constitutional Court
a)- The Supreme Constitutional Court is composed of seven (7) members, all of whom are nominated by the Legislative Assembly. Its members are drawn from Judges, legal experts and lawyers, all of whom must have no less than fifteen (15) years of professional experience.
b)- No member of the Supreme Constitutional Court shall not be eligible to serve on the Executive Council or in the Legislative Assembly or to hold any other office or position of emolument, as defined by law.
c)- A member’s term of office runs for four (4) years. No member may serve more than two terms.
The functions of the Supreme Constitutional Court
1. To interpret the articles and underlying principles of the Charter.
2. To determine the constitutionality of laws enacted by the Legislative Assembly and decisions taken by Executive Council.
3. To judicially review legislative acts and executive decisions, where such acts and decisions may be in the conflict with the letter and spirit of the Charter and the Constitution.
4. Canton Premiers, members of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council may be brought before the Supreme Constitutional Court, when alleged to have acted in breach of the Charter.
5. Its decisions are reached through simple majority vote.
A member of the Supreme Constitutional Court shall not be removed from office except for stated misbehavior or incapacity. The provisions and procedures governing the work of the Supreme Constitutional Court shall be set out in a special law.
Procedure for determination of the constitutionality of laws as follow:
1- The decision for the non-constitutional of any law will be as follow:
a)- Where, prior to a law’s enactment, more than twenty per cent (20%) of the Legislative Assembly objects to its constitutionality, the Supreme Constitutional Court is seized of the matter and shall render its decision within fifteen (15) days; if the law is to be urgently enacted, a decision shall be rendered within seven (7) days.
b)-Where, following the rendering of the Judgment of the Supreme Constitutional Court, more than twenty per cent (20%) of the Legislative Assembly still objects to its constitutionality, an appeal may be lodged.
c)- If, on appeal, the Supreme Constitutional Court rules the law to be enacted as unconstitutional, the law shall be considered null and void.
2. If an argument is raised in a court concerning the constitutionality of a law as follow:
a)- If parties to a case raise a challenge to the constitutionality of a law and the court so holds, the matter is stayed while it is referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court
b)- The Supreme Constitutional Court must deliver its judgment within thirty (30) days.
IX General Rules
The Charter applies within the Autonomous Regions. It may only be amended by a qualified majority of two-thirds (⅔) of the Legislative Assembly.
The Charter shall be laid before the Transitional Legislative Assembly for review and ratification.
Syrian citizens holding dual nationality are barred from assuming leading positions in the Office of the Canton Premier, the Provincial Council, and the Supreme Constitutional Court.
The Charter sets out the legislative framework through which laws, decrees, and states of emergency shall be formally implemented.
Elections to form the Legislative Assembly shall be held within four (4) months of the ratification of the Charter by the Transitional Legislative Assembly. The Transitional Legislative Assembly retains the right to extend the time period if exceptional circumstances arise.
The Oath of Office to be taken by members of the Legislative Assembly
“I solemnly swear, in the name of Almighty God, to abide by the Charter and laws of the Autonomous Regions, to defend the liberty and interests of the people, to ensure the security of the Autonomous Regions, to protect the rights of legitimate self-defense and to strive for social justice, in accordance with the principles of democratic rules enshrined herein.”
All governing bodies, institutions and committees shall be made up of at least forty percent (40%) of either sex.
Syrian criminal and civil legislation is applicable in the Autonomous Regions except where it contradicts provisions of this Charter.
In the case of conflict between laws passed by the Legislative Assembly and legislation of the central government, the Supreme Constitutional Court will rule upon the applicable law, based on the best interest of the Autonomous Regions.
The Charter guarantees the protection of the environment and regards the sustainable development of natural ecosystems as a moral and a sacred national duty.
The education system of the Autonomous Regions shall be based upon the values of reconciliation, dignity, and pluralism. It is a marked departure from prior education policies founded upon racist and chauvinistic principles.
Education within the Autonomous Regions rejects prior education policies based on racist and chauvinistic principles. Founded upon the values of reconciliation, dignity, and pluralism,
a)- The new educational curriculum of the cantons shall recognize the rich history, culture and heritage of the peoples of the Autonomous Regions.
b)-The education system, public service channels and academic institutions shall promote human rights and democracy.
a)- The Charter enshrines the principle of separation of religion and State.
b)- Freedom of religion shall be protected. All religions and faiths in the Autonomous Regions shall be respected. The right to exercise religious beliefs shall be guaranteed, insofar as it does not adversely affect the public good.
a)- The promotion of cultural, social and economic advancement by administrative institutions ensures enhanced stability and public welfare within the Autonomous Regions.
b)- There is no legitimacy for authority which contradicts this charter. Article 94 Martial law may be invoked and revoked by a qualified majority of two-thirds (⅔) of the Executive Council, in a special session chaired by the Canton Premier. The decision must then be presented to and unanimously adopted by the Legislative Assembly, with its provisions contained in a special law.
The Executive Council Bodies
1. Body of Foreign Relations
2. Body of Defense
3. Body of Internal Affairs
4. Body of Justice
5. Body of Cantonal and Municipal Councils and affiliated to it Committee of Planning and Census
6. Body of Finance, and affiliated to it a)-Committee on Banking Regulations. b)- Committee of Customs and Excise.
7. Body of Social Affairs
8. Body of Education
9. Body of Agriculture
10. Body of Energy.
11. Body of Health
12. Body of Trade and Economic Cooperation
13. Body of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs
14. Body of Culture
15. Body of Transport
16. Body of Youth and Sports
17. Body of Environment, Tourism and Historical Objects
18. Body of Religious Affairs
19. Body of Family and Gender Equality
20. Body of Human Rights.
21. Body of Communications
22. Body of Food
Security Article 96
The Charter shall be published in the media and press.
CONSTITUTION OF THE YPG
People’s Defense Units, a.k.a People’s Protection Units.
Article I – Organizational Name: The YPG organizes itself as the basic defense force in Rojava, West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan). The designation of its military organization is known as the People’s Defense Units – YPG: People’s Defense Units, a.k.a People’s Protection Units.
Article II – YPG Symbol: A red star is placed on a yellow ground, in the lower section ‘YPG’ is written with green capital letters, a green line is drawn on both sides of the flag and around the star.
Article III – YPG Objectives: The objectives of the YPG are centered on the Paradigm of the Ecological and Democratic Civilization, and Gender Freedom; in order to build a Democratic Syria and a Free Kurdistan.
The YPG aims to protect the political and ethical society, it takes self-regulation as its basis – without discriminating between religion, language, nationality, gender, or political parties, in a harmony with democratic and national interests. The YPG shoulders self-defense as a duty in face of all kinds of attacks, foreign or domestic; YPG works for the freedom of all the peoples of Rojava (West Kurdistan).
The YPG is struggling to achieve the freedom of all Syrian components, and organizes itself in West Kurdistan to stand in face of any external or internal intervention; YPG looks to the Self-Defense Project as a basic task. For that, the YPG, as a national military force, is not affiliated with any political power; in the context of defending the national interests, the YPG is subject to the decisions of the Supreme Kurdish Body.
Article Four – Regulatory Mechanism in the YPG:
The YPG organizes itself to the form: General Command and Sub-Leaderships. To establish the YPG three centers shape themselves in triple Cantons of:
The higher corporation for the YPG is the extended Military Council which meets annually. This Council could also meet in emergency situations. At its annual meeting, the works of last year are evaluated, and the work plans for the following year are set to be practiced.
• Military Council: Consists of 55 members who meet every six months, the Council is responsible for all activities of the YPG.
• General Command: Responsible for the daily acts of the YPG, General Command actualizes the decisions made by the Military Council, and creates action plans.
• Local Military Council: The Local Military Council is associated with local decisions and works on the same basis, the number of members of the Local Military Council is according to the size of the center, and they meet every 3 months.
The YPG consists of three basic divisions:
• Professional Forces
• Resistance Units
• Local Forces
– These divisions work according to the Central Democratic System through reports, orders and instructions. Suggestions proposed by sub leaderships are accepted and assessed by the General Command.
– The appointment and promotion of each Combatant is according to the opinion and orders of Local Command who organize the forces in agreement with the regional needs.
– YPG accepts adult nominees for its membership, national unity supporters could also be accepted to join the organization’s ranks.
– To join the People’s Defense Units one must enter and pass through training courses, and finally they must be officially sworn in. For every member of the YPG code names (Nom de guerre) and uniforms will be provided, and their equipment should be registered.
– Every member of the People’s Defense Units (YPG) are appointed in agreement with Command Center. Under the knowledge of Command Center, defense forces are organized in harmony with local requirements.
YPG Members’ Features and Values:
1. With a revolutionary and patriotic knowledge, ecologic and democratic standards, an YPG member takes a free and equal life as basis to build a moral and political civilization.
2. He/she founds people’s defense as the first priority and joins the idea on this value.
3. He/she understands people’s culture very well, foresees people’s sensitivities such as religion, nationality, and moves respecting their ideals.
4. He/she aims to serve the people, and works to benefit and train them as a prior value.
5. He/she approaches towards the people in the context of moral values. To teach the people on their protection/defense and mobilization, he/she works vigorously.
6. Does not see the YPG as a place for their personal benefits, as he/she aims to serve the people, does not see any distinction of family, tribe or region.
7. They are seen among the people as the most respected and loved personalities for their joy and intimacy.
8. As he/she moves with a democratic, ecologic and gender awareness, refuses gender discrimination in society.
9. He/she is open to criticism and accepts his/her comrades’ or people’s reviews.
10. He/she never takes side in people’s familial, tribal, religious or political issues. He/she is the force to justly resolve the situation, and protects unity as he/she is knowledgeable about a democratic nation.
1. Women in the People’s Defense Units independently build their organization.
2. In each region women associate 40 percent of the Defense Units.
3. Women’s forces in the YPG conduct themselves as the main body to support and defend women in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan).
4. Women’s forces in the YPG are pioneers for the path to reach the objectives of the YPG; to provide the people with the protection they deserve.
5. Women’s forces in the YPG are appointed and promoted by Women’s Command.
1. YPG Command: Is defined by YPG’s Rules of Procedure, it builds Academies Leadership by military branches to train YPG volunteers.
2. Adjective to the YPG Command, Academy Leadership organizes its force by subordinate branches. Academies titles are addressed like: “Şehîd Xebat (Martyr Khabat) Military Academy”.
3. A range of political and military programs are designed during training courses in the YPG academies to increase perception – in order to build a free and democratic life.
4. Based on a modern strategy and the line of legitimate defense, YPG academies conduct technical, tactical and military training courses.
5. Şehîd Xebat Military Academies provide basic military training for the volunteers who have registered in the YPG as well as directing professional courses to escalate YPG fighters’ proficiency. These academies could also assemble special courses considering the requests appealed by Combatant Commanders.
6. Şehîd Xebat Military Academies, like the Military Academies Command, organize themselves from top to the bottom in agreement with their requirements; and open their subdivisions.
7. The Military Academies Command provides training materials and brochures, and carries out other programs such as seminars.
8. Specialized courses (heavy weaponry, mine planting operations, sniper courses, etc.) are directed under the roof of these training academies.
Border Units (Borders Command)
1. Founded on boundary bases, the Border Units organize their forces in accordance with a block system.
2. The block system is composed of three distinct bases where the units are placed.
3. The Border Units, at different shifts, control the traffic on the frontier.
4. Except for the base commanders, cellphones are not being used among the Border Units forces, communication are only made through wireless method.
5. On the frontier, except for the specified points, trafficking is forbidden.
6. If an illegal border crossing is completed, obligatory interrogation must be performed, and the illegally crossed objects will be confiscated. The individuals who are in custody must be immediately referred to the relevant authorities.
7. In border bases rudimentary actions are being carried out.
8. Border Units prepare reports of their daily activities.
1. The Logistic Command is put up within the YPG Command – by the intention of answering vital requirements.
2. Its responsibility is to answer necessities of military Commanders and Units.
3. The Logistic Infrastructure is formed of a central area, and general diffusion is completed in harmony.
4. The Logistic Infrastructure expends considering the budget definite for its body. Expenditure out of this budget should be approved by a higher organization.
5. Equipment received by this structure are orderly distributed, additional costs are prevented.
6. Democratic values are based so as collectivity, awareness and organization.
7. Organizational necessities of a 6-month period are foreseen and provided at once.
Record and Archive Structure (Saziya Arşiva Sicîlan)
1. Subordinate to the YPG Command, the Record and Archive Structure systematically archives Defense Units’ identifications.
2. Archival works are completed in each headquarters and the final information are orderly sent to the Central Archive Structure positioned in the Central HQs.
3. The Record and Archive Structure saves the information on each member’s identity in a distinct program.
4. It is under the roof of this structure that media activities are being executed.
5. All archival activities are confidentially completed, and could only be accessed by the members of this structure.
Gear and Ammunition Foundation
1. This foundation establishes both in the Central Command and Sub-Command headquarters.
2. This institution is responsible for the storage, registration and protection of gear and ammunition.
3. The foundation distributes gear and ammunition in requested areas, and is responsible for the protection of reserves.
4. Always considers cases of emergency in war, and stores weapons and ammunition on this basis, it does not use ammunition randomly.
5. Specified centers determine the purchase of ammunition; the Ammunition Foundation is in direct contact with these centers.
6. Predefined Commanders are responsible for the ammunition that has been distributed among the troops.
1. This institution organize themselves under the roof of the General Command, and is responsible for fiscal policy.
2. It is responsible for auditing all exports and imports.
3. It is responsible for finding points of material resources.
4. Formally receives reports from each region and hands them over to the General Command.
5. It is financially responsible for the Logistic Infrastructure.
6. It is responsible for common needs as well as bigger sales.
Correspondents(Kurye / Qasid)
1. Units of Correspondents arise under the roof of the General Command according to requirements. Contacts between the GC and sub-leaders are made through the Units of Correspondents.
2. Each sub-command HQs creates a Correspondent Unit to communicate with the other headquarters.
System in the YPG
Military organization in the YPG is based on three pillars namely:
• Group / Team (Tîm): Consists of three to five Combatants.
• Platoon (Taxim): Consists of two teams.
• Block (Boluk): Consists of three teams.
• Battalion (Tabur): Consists of three blocks.
• Provincial Command (Ayalat): Conduct themselves as Leadership of Brigades.
• Professional Units arise within the Paradigm of Democratic, Ecologic Society and Gender Freedom – in order to remove obstacles to the freedom of the Kurdish people. These units are composed of Specialist Units in the YPG, those volunteers in the YPG who join the actions 24 hours a day, have passed political and military training, and are fully aware of the concept of legitimate defense.
• In case of peace and when conditions are allowing relevant authorities could approve a break (a week in a month) for the Professional Units.
Peculiarities of the Members of the Professional Units:
1. Patriots and defenders of the people.
2. Democrats and advocates of freedom.
3. Fully aware, brave and active.
4. Creator, devoted, practical and owner of initiative.
5. Skillful in technical and tactical methods.
6. Work for the implementation of rules and instructions.
7. Own self-system discipline, and promote themselves through self-training.
8. As he/she moves with the idea of Democratic, Ecologic Life and Gender Freedom awareness, refuses gender discrimination in the society.
9. Receptive to criticism and self-criticism for a productive change.
Secret Resistance Units (Yekîneyên Berxwedanê Yên Veşartî)
1. The Resistance Units arise from the Provincial and Regional Command (Ayalat). Fully alert about the situation, each cadre creates one or two unit(s) along with him/herself in order to stand against the enemy attacks.
2. Members of the Resistance Units are carefully chosen, they are the most trusted Combatants.
3. Each cadre passes its unit(s) through special training courses.
4. These units are to be secret and unknown, even the members do not know about each other.
5. Members of these units are highly disciplined and active.
6. Under any circumstances they protect their ability to fight.
Local Units (Yekîneyên Herêmî)
Local Units core implements the concept of legitimate defense for the democratization of society in order to provide and protect people’s freedoms and equality; these units are based on organization and leadership. Members of the Local Units are people’s fighting forces, they join the military actions within the masses of people without interrupting their social life.
• Without dropping out of civic life and community, they initiate a national, military force. These units have no material revenue but they do have a particular ideology.
• Highly determined in protecting the interests of people.
• Local Units are skilled through technical and tactical training methods.
• Local Units are skilled in the concept of self-defense and act upon the basis of political objectives.
• Members of the Local Units do not belong to any organization or movement of society.
• They are not related to any task of other targets, linked to their goals as People’s Defense Units.
• They work in order to be able to keep their social life. They are responsible for their families but do not confuse any form of social and military life, so they avoid to constitute a ground for personal interests.
• In order to apply the national duties they vigorously join the Units’ tasks. Members of these units cannot leave their work by design.
Internal Works (Şixulîna/Xebitîna Hundirîn)
1- The form of Instructions and Commands
Democratic Centralism is the basis for the Internal Works, this centralism is intended through instructions and orders. The form is implemented through meetings, discussions, and the presence of all the members to find appropriate suggestions.
2- The Form of Reports
About the work carried out, from the bottom to the top, it organizes to make the Command Centers informed. Members of these units, after executing these instructions, directly report the actions to the leadership that gave the instructions. Each Unit and each sub-command provides complement verbally and in writing to the higher leadership in a pre-defined period; they are to hold their meetings and give the reports (Tekmil). Sub institutions that have not submitted their reports considered impermeable to their work.
A) All our troops will organize their meetings as required.
B) In the camps taken supplementation a day, every three days these reports will be debated and evaluated.
C) Secret and Local Teams (Tim) intend their reports (Tekmil) once a week and organize their meetings every 15 days, and present a report on the results to the Supreme Command.
D) Platoons (Taxim) meet every 15 days, Blocks (Boluk) hold their meetings monthly, and orderly submit a report to the Supreme Command.
E) All institutions and centers meet monthly, and similarly submit their report to the Supreme Command.
4- System / Discipline: The need for a disciplined system arises in every military action. Discipline is the first and foremost military principle associated with free will and democracy-building foundations. A disciplined system consolidates business, events and unity, and brings victory. To carry out a struggle is only possible when the elements abide the rules definedby a disciplined system.
Rules that must be adhered to and acted upon:
• Working upon secret and hidden rules.
• Commitment to intellectual tasks.
• Not to hesitate in front of the enemies of the nation.
• Not to give the field to override the principles of the struggle.
• Protection of the physical principles (arms and ammunition) that have been received – to use them as needed.
• Concern for the collective form of work, paying attention to personal health.
• Initiative, and resistance against all the terms and difficult conditions.
• Put action plans in advance, and organize time.
5- Criticize and Self-Criticism
Criticize and self-criticism is important in order to dispense members from personal mistakes, and commit to the principles of freedom and democracy. Responsible for criticism and self-criticism, each member of the YPG reviews and criticizes his/her comrades and his/her own actions in official meetings. Criticism and self-criticism is not used as a weapon to reduce the comrades, but it is used as a tool for progress and development.
6- Errors and Penalties
Since the YPG is a military organization and sees the Professional, Local and Resistance Units under its roof, mistakes in its ranks are divided into two types of crimes:
A. War Crimes
B. Errors that violate system discipline
War crimes are investigated in military courts, and errors within system discipline will be reviewed through organizational platforms.
War crimes that will be investigated in military courts:
• Espionage for the benefit of the enemy
• Betrayal of the principles of the struggle
• Acts of distortion against the march of civilization, democracy and the struggle for freedom
• Evacuating efforts and fighters during a military campaign against enemy forces
• Views and functions that let to commit blunders
• Use of cruelty and violence outside the concept of legitimate protection
• Causing comrades’ death
• Subverting the principle of people and the struggle
• Distorting the system discipline against the formation of the Unit
• Actions against Units’/people’s ethics
Those proved of the cited war crimes will be disqualified from the military actions, and will be osculated according to the military court’s decision.
Errors violating system discipline
• Approaching and acting in a personal way towards principles
• Signs of personal behavior at work, making it a tool for severity
• Standing as an obstacle against the Unit’s work
• Leaving the organization without the application of formal rules to resign
• Acting out of regular decisions or delaying the implementation of orders
• Not to support his/her Comrades and leave them without control
• Insisting to complete those operations that will not result as intended
• Revealing secret topics
• Reporting operations’ outcome to irrelevant third parties
• Not to protect the equipment that have been distributed to members
• Giving false information to senior leadership
• Delay to inform the senior leadership of information
• Not to complete tasks in a timely manner
• To accept the membership or the expulsion of members could be completed over a proposal by the lower structure and the approval of senior leadership
Persons committing system discipline errors after investigation (platform), according to the gravity of the offense, will either be “freeze from membership, isolated, disqualified from duty or freeze from mission”, etc.
YPG Membership Sworn Statement:
According to the Paradigm of Democratic, Ecologic Civilization, and Gender Freedom; I will defend the moral and political society without discriminating between religion, language, nationality, gender, or political parties, and that I will act upon the legitimate defense against all attacks, foreign or domestic. Considering the rules of procedure adopted by the YPG, I will join the efforts with a bold, disciplined and confident faith. In face of any kind of difficulties, I will base victory with an abundant willpower, and in this concept:
Before Kurdistan’s fallen martyrs, proud Kurdish people and all my comrades during this struggle; I swear, I swear, I swear.
People’s Defense Units (YPG) – 2015 Media Center
Interview with Redur Xelil, The Spokesman of People’s Protection Units (YPG)
By Zanyar Omrani
23 May, 2015
In a room which did not smell of war, I talked to Redur Xelil about the four-year resistance of his forces in Syria; A small guerilla that in less than four years, managed to form a 35000-people army and has made the officials of some countries officially acclaim their efforts.
Redur told me about the current status of the YPG forces, while showing me the digital map of the region on his tablet. The yellow circles showed the latest status of YPG forces, while red circles were the symbol of ISIS and pink circles showed the Baath regime forces. And the blue ones were the Turkish. Then it was the time for talking about many topics, including the internal issues and coalition forces.
The YPG Establishment
– Mr. Redur Xelil, please tell us about the initiation and foundation of YPG.
On the first days of the revolution in Syria, everything seemed peaceful in Rojava. Most of the protests were done in the form of civil movements, but after some months, everything changed. In Rojava, which was the most secure part of the Syria, the different tribes and groups, formed several military groups. They fought with one another on some unworthy tribal, religious and ethnic issues. It was a dangerous time.
That was the time when the need for a united army in Rojava was fully felt, an army which could protect the people. The first circles were established in Dayrik city under the commandment of Xebat Dêrîk which was primarily called YXG (The People’s Youth Units).
Gradually and based on a rational plan, the military branches were expanded in all the cities of Rojava.
– What was the reaction of the Syrian regime?
They were shocked by the series of events happening in the Syrian cities and they were getting weaker and weaker. Considering the public wrath caused by the many years of oppressing and rejecting the Kurdish people, they knew that they must withdraw. There were some conflicts in some points between our forces and the regime forces, but finally we gained the control of the Kurdish regions with the least cost.
Opening another front in which the deprived and suffering Kurds were present, was not in the interests of the regime.
We took the opportunity and began to organize and train the forces in different cities and villages.
The Kurdish political activists were also very active and collaborated with us to form a consolidate army in order to defend the people of the autonomous cantons (Jazira, Kobani and Afrin); an army which proved its power in Kobani and other parts.
– For many people, the differences between YPG and YPJ is not really clear, the real question is why there is two separate military groups in Rojava?
YPJ is an independent women organization which acts parallel to the YPG which has been created by our friends.
Actually, they are the essential part of YPG who fight against ISIS, hand in hand with these forces.
– Is the headquarter structure of YPG of co-leadership type?
No, we are a military force and here the issues are slightly different. The co-leadership type is for civil and political organizations, but in YPG there is a coordination room composed of several men and women.
– Is there a clear number of the YPG and YPJ?
YPG currently has more than 35000 members. I can claim that more than 35 percent of them are the members of the YPJ which increases day by day.
– What about the killed ones?
Since the beginning of the YPG, we have had 2000 martyrs, 750 of which has been martyred in the Kobani liberation war.
– Are the Asayish organization and the “Self-Defense” forces parts of the YPG?
No, they are two separate organizations that mostly act in urban issues and the internal security cases.
– What about the Self-Defense Committee in communes?
They are also related to the communes and Asayish, not to us.
The Current Status of the War Fronts and the Military arrangements of YPG Forces
– Mr. Redur Xelil, could you give us a general schema of the current situation of the YPG and YPJ in the three cantons?
In Afrin canton, currently there is no conflict and everything seems peaceful.
Kobani canton has long been the battle field with ISIS. At the moment, we have ruled them out of the controlled area (out of the area before the attack of these Islamists to the canton).
At the present time, the war is under the way in ISIS controlled area in the self-proclaimed governorate of Ar-Raqqah.
In the Kobani canton and the suburban areas of Tel Tamer and Serikani cities, there is an intense war going on against us.
– Which groups are your neighbors in each cantons?
In Afrin canton, we have Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra Front), Ahrar ash-Sham and the Free Syrian Army, and also the Baath regime. In Kobani and Jazira , the only neighbor is ISIS.
– But I also have seen the regime forces in Qamishli and Hasakah too…
Yes, they are also present at the Kobani canton.
– How far are the YPG and YPJ in their last controlling point in Kobani from these forces in Kobani? How many kilometers?
Less than 70 kilometers.
– And you want to connect the cantons to one another, is that right?
This is a complicated and unknown issue. We are prone to such an incident but there are also some historical realities involved.
Most of the residents of these regions, are the Arabs who have been sent to these Kurdish areas in 60s to 80s, in order to change the population demography of the Kurdish areas.
– Do these people fight in the form of YPG besides you or under another terms? Because as you know there is another force called “Sutoro” composed of Syriac youth, in the Assyrian area, which acts under the of the YPG. Is there also a group for Arabs?
The things are different for Arabs. For example in Kobani, there are several Arabic militias which fight beside YPG. Also, in addition to the Free Army andJabhat al-Akrad, the Jabhat Thowar Suriyya (Syria Revolutionaries Front)and Kata’eb Shams ash-Shamal (The Northern Sun Battalion)are active in the battles that are both Arab
– You live in an area which is not homogeneous from the demographic aspect, how do the Arabs interact with you?
For us, The Kurdish Rojava is a definite geographical area that nothing can conceal the truth about it, even the fifty-year old Arabization policy of the former regime; however, these kinds of policies have had many negative influences.
Nevertheless, at the moment what we have in hand is the presence of many ethnics in the area including Kurdish, Assyrian, Syriac, Arab and Circassian. Ethnic or racial war bears no fruit for us or for the Arabs. We should regard this plurality and difference as an opportunity not as a threat. This solidarity makes it possible to go for mutual trust in the near future.
We want to approach the issue with wisdom and rationality and we try to enliven the inactive space between the Rojava ethnics, which takes time.
We do not have any problems with our Arab brothers, as some Arab youth are now fighting against ISIS besides our warriors and they are martyred in such battles.
– How do the Arabs in the area think about you?
Unfortunately, the Arabs in the area lack a solid structure so one cannot get into dialogues with them. Most of them are influenced by the commands of the tribe chiefs and act accordingly. They usually accompany the main power of the area in different times.
– Even when that power is ISIS?
Unfortunately, yes! At first, most of them were along with the Jabhat al-Nusra; and before that they were with the regime, and now they are cooperating with ISIS.
We have applied a completely different policy, which is the effort for eliminating the ethnic sensitivities. We can live with one another peacefully as brothers and have managed to gain their confidence using legal strategies.
After the arrival of YPG forces at the Tal Hamis and Tal Brak cities that were mostly Arabic Residents, the peace has returned to the city and we do not see the dangers from ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusraand the regime for Arabs anymore. Currently, the local forces have the gained the control of their city. And many people have been martyred for liberating these areas.
Many local people would tell us at the time of the former regime: “We will kick you out of the Arabic lands. We will slaughter you, you do not belong here!” They were just obeying the regime policies and there were no efforts to reviewing their opinions. However, at last, the ones who liberated the Arabs from the inhumane culture yoke of ISIS, were the very Kurds whom the Arabs wanted to slaughter. They lived several years under the strict and inhumane rules of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. Today, many things have changed; the ethnic sensitivities have reduced in the Arab cantons and they are eagerly joining the YPG day by day. We are optimistic about living in a brotherly atmosphere equal to Arab, Assyrian and Chechenian brothers.
– Is their cooperation and participation limited to military forces only?
No, they are more active in political level; from the local offices to the common leadership of cantons and other legal domains.
Now that ISIS is getting weaker and weaker and the regime has shown its true nature potential, it is to the interest of Arabs to live in a friendly atmosphere with the other ethnics of the region including Kurds, Assyrian, Armenians and Chechenians.
– What about the Assyrians? I talked to some of them and they told me of “the fancy days they had under the privilege of the regime.”
It is completely true. The regime cared for them in a special manner. On those days that we did not have ID cards, the Assyrians had private schools and they held key positions in the cities. But we should not forget that the regime stopped its support. Now it is the YPG that is protecting the Assyrians from the fundamentalist ISIS attacks in Tal Tamir and other areas.
They are fully aware that if there was no YPG, they could not resist against ISIS even for a single day.
– If one day, for any reason, they do not want the YPG forces be present in Assyrian or Arabic areas, what will be your possible reaction?
There is an important issue here that is in those areas, addition to Assyrians and Arabs we have also Kurdish people unlike Hasakah City which is composed of just Assyrians and Arabs. In our opinion, there is a truth called Kurdistan Rojava and we protect the Kurdish and non-Kurdish people based on this truth.
– Where are the territories of this region? Do you have any maps that define you will continue fighting against ISIS until the liberation of some so-called area, and at that particular point the Kurdistan Rojava ends?
There is not any clear and definite geographical map. Drawing and preparing such map is the task of the canton political forces.
– How far you will proceed as the YPG?
We as YPG have definite strategy; we will continue up to that point that ISIS danger has been overcome.
– What is the distance between your forces with Tell Abyad city in the east of Kobani canton?
We are now 20 kilometers from the city.
– Why is this city important?
This strategic city is important from different aspects both for us and for ISIS.
That is why ISIS is present at the city with full equipment and forces.
Firstly, Tel Abyad (Kurdish: Girê Sipî) is the city next to Turkey, and the second reason is that it is the main passageway and essential aid route for providing the logistics of ISIS and the fresh forces.
If ISIS loses the control of the city, in addition to losing the main passageway for transferring the forces and logistics, it will also be surrounded by our forces.
I should also note that in Tel Abyad city and in the distance between Kobani and Jazira, there are also some Kurds. For examples, there were many Kurds in Tel Abyad who had to leave their houses and fields after the arrival of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS.
Currently, there are no Kurds remaining in the city, and their houses and fields have been confiscated by Jabhat al-Nusra and then ISIS.
Those groups have continued the very policy of Arabization even with more speed.
Criticisms to YPG
– Mr. Redur Xelil there are some criticisms expressed about YPG. For example, it is said that YPG recruits kids under 18. Also this Compulsory Military Service Act which has been recently approved has brought about some censures.
You are right, unfortunately in the hasty atmosphere after the beginning of the Syrian revolution, some of such mistakes happened among our forces. This critique is correct. But with the legal frameworks approved later, now there is the least possibility of violating our commitments to the Geneva Convention. We are bound to those conventions and they have sent their inspection teams to Rojava many times. If there is any problem, we will take it into consideration. According to our laws, accepting forces under 18 is forbidden but considering our crucial situation and the dangers threatening us, the ones between 16 and 18 are accepted for military training only, and they will be sent to war front after reaching the age of 18.
We have prepared the general law of force admittance in which the membership conditions, training methods, course and all the other necessary items are explained.
We should not forget that it is just 4 years since we have begun to organize our forces. Forming and organizing the defense forces was a necessity and a reaction to the dangerous situation of the region.
We should protect ourselves, as we are the target of ruthless attacks. They are killing our children.
– Kurdish opposition parties in Rojava say that they have also some forces called Peshmerga, about 5000 people, but you do not let them participate in the war.
This is not true; this is just a tricky political game which has been started in Iraqi Kurdistan. We have held many conferences with the Kurdish opposition forces.
We have accepted many of their requests related to YPG since the first days, from the flag colors to other things.
We are just as frank to say this aloud that we will not let any other military force, be active in Rojava, since we have the experiences of Palestine and Civil War in Kurdistan before our eyes.
The military policies are our red lines. If they are really eager to protect their homeland, they can come and join us in the war under the YPG.
They say that we should change the name of YPG, but we do not know why we should change its name!?
Also, there is no such force called Rojava Peshmerga whatsoever; it is just possible that the Rojava youth living in Iraqi Kurdistan, act according to Peshmerga ministry laws. Just like an employee that earns a monthly living. Just like that.
This issue is mostly a leverage that the Iraqi Kurdistan parties have held against us just to increase the political pressures.
Iraqi Kurdistan Government
– During the sudden attack of ISIS to Shingal (Sinjar), your forces arrived quickly at the Shingal Mountains and by opening the rescue corridors, managed to prevent the expansion of the disaster, and the Peshmerga forces arrived at the city, in the midst of severe conflicts in Kobani. Currently, how do you evaluate your military relations level with Kurdistan Peshmerga Ministry, taking this into consideration that the level of problems between the Syrian Unity Democratic Party and the Kurdistan Democratic Party is higher than normal, and they as your brother Kurds, do not recognize the Rojava autonomous system?
In any case, these issues are parts of our internal problems and we are optimistic to see these problems resolved. In case of the presence of YPG in Shingal, we had declared from the beginning that the reason of our participation in the conflicts was just this feeling that we had a national and humanitarian task on our shoulders; we saw ourselves responsible for saving the Shingal people and protecting the people was the only purpose we sought in Shingal.
– You mean you would quit Shingal?
We have been participated along with the PKK and Peshmerga forces so far, right now that we are talking together, there is a complicated war going on between the Kurds and ISIS.
– For how long you will stay there?
We will stay in Shingal until the danger of ISIS is eradicated. Then, there is nothing left for us to stay.
– What about the Peshmerga forces in Kobani?
The participation of Peshmerga forces in Kobani, aside from the all military topics such as their numbers or the weapons they brought to the city, bears a precious historical result:
This issue led to the commendable unity of the Kurds and it proved that a common front of Kurds is fighting against ISIS.
The spiritual value of such historical act is abundant. Then, it doesn’t matter they were 50 Peshmergas or 1000 ones
– There are some controversies in the attitudes and party values between you and the Peshmerga. Do not these contradictions cast shadows on the future of your strategic cooperation with the Peshmerga?
Unfortunately, they are sometimes influential, but generally we need to be together more. Today, it is just our brother Kurds in Kurdistan and our forces in Rojava that are fighting against ISIS from Khanaqin to Afrin.
The ISIS attacks involves all the Kurds in the area, we expect to form a Kurdish common army or at least a common front against ISIS.
The Baath Regime and the Syrian Opposition
– The regime forces are still present at Hasakah and Qamishli cities, how do you interact with them in general?
Yes, they are in the center of Hasakah and Qamishli markets, in limited numbers. They are really passive and do not participate in the war against us. The real army which is fighting with us is ISIS.
The regime is just in Jazira canton. In Afrin and Kobani cantons, there is not any trace of them. Nowadays, there is a global collaboration against ISIS, and our priority is to fight against ISIS.
The priority of the global powers has changed. Their problem is now ISIS, not the regime.
– Has it changed for you, as well?
There is no doubt that ISIS is now more dangerous than any other forces, even more than the regime.
The regime is absolutely ineffective and powerless in Kobani, and it tries to ignite disputes and fights between the canton ethnics, but fortunately the Kurds, Assyrians and Arabs are fully aware of their tricks.
All the ethnics have approved the peaceful situation of canton, which shows the unique power of the YPG, and it is not easy for Assad regime to provoke ethnic sensitiveness anymore.
We have declared from the first days that our problem with the regime is a political issue and it must be resolved through diplomacy.
– You mean you see the potential and the capacity of selecting a political solution in the regime? Especially while remembering the previous acts and behaviors of the regime against the Kurds.
Unfortunately the regime is very biased and regards the issues with a chauvinistic attitude which barely leaves any open route toward finding a political solution. Of course, the Syrian opposition has similar fascistic ideas toward Kurds. None of them speaks of the Kurdish issue so that the grounds for vast political and military collaborations be open. However, we are interacting with the Syrian Oppositions in order to find a way out of the current crisis.
– What about the regime?
They also issue statements sometimes.
– Some while ago, Bashar Assad in an interview, accused Erdogan of supporting ISIS in Kobani and said that the Kurds were the ones who liberated the city. Are some cases like this, signs of relationship between you and them or the signs of their intention to get closer to you?
There have been some attempts, but the regime itself lacks integrity in its decisions. The regional interferences impedes from the formation of a political space in which the Syrian internal problems can be discussed and resolved.
Iran plays an important role in defining the regime policies. There is also Hezbollah. Unfortunately, the regime does not govern Syria alone.
The Islamic Republic, Kurds and the non-Kurds in Iran
– You spoke of Hezbollah and Iran. Let’s consider this issue in Kobani canton borders. Are there any Iranian forces in the areas controlled by the regime in Hasakah and Qamishli? Do you have any evidence of their presence?
No, there is not any considerable issue, the regime itself is really got into an impasse in these two cities and has no other choice but to act under severe security conditions.
We don’t know if there are any Iranian or Hezbollah forces among the regime in these two cities. However, we have received many reports of their presence at the area.
The Iranian government often interferes in the area through the Syrian forces. Also, the Guardians of the Revolution (Haras Al-Thowrah) forces who are close to Iran, are present in the region. However, there is no confirmed and reliable information about their number, effectiveness and also the content of their plans.
– Have you captured anyone from the Iranian or Hezbollah forces?
No, we have not had such cases.
– What is the general attitude of the Iranian government about the YPG? Do you have any communications in military aids level or political relations?
No, unfortunately there have not been such things.
In political levels, just once Mr. Salih Muslim was invited to Tehran.
– What about military relations with YPG?
We had no relationships.
– Some Persian media sources in the midst of Kobani Liberation claimed that the Kurdish forces had received Iranian weapons.
It was just rumor, and I have not heard such thing.
Look, it is an undeniable fact that Iran is a powerful country in the region. Our problem currently in Syria and Rojava, is the Baath regime not the political system in Iran.
We are eager to have the same relations that the Iranian government has with the Iraqi Kurdistan; that is, a formal and clear relationship.
Our doors are open to the powers in the region. Iran is one of the countries. We do not see improper or obscene to have some communications and relationships in different levels, provided that they recognize the democratic autonomy of our cantons.
In other words, they should believe that there is a Kurdish issue and they should accept the various political and legal aspects of such issue.
Nevertheless, the present reality is that Iran regards the Kurdish issue as a secondary and a trivial matter and we certainly do not acknowledge such attitude.
– What about the Iranian Kurdish parties or the people of the Iranian Kurdistan (Rojhelat) or the other non-Kurd Iranians?
The Iranian people, especially the Rojhelat Kurds have supported the Rojava both spiritually and both in case of soldiering. Their number has been really considerable.
– Do you have any number of the Iranian members?
Not regretfully, but I can tell from my own witnesses that I have seen more than hundreds from the Rojhelat Kurds. The Iranian Kurds have been very active in Kobani. We had many martyrs there that belongs to Rojhelat. Also, the number of the non-Kurd guerillas is high. Martyr “Rozhvan” who was a Persian Iranian, was one of them.
ISIS is a terrorist and anti-human organization, so the doors of Rojava are open to any people who want to fight against this terrorist group, and it does not matter if they are Kurd or not.
The role of the Turkish Government
– You have claimed that ISIS forces use the Turkish land for logistical and soldier feeding, and you have repeatedly accused Turkey of opening its doors to ISIS and you say that Turkey uses every opportunity for striking the YPG. Could you please elaborate on this?
We do not have any doubt on this issue that ISIS particularly counts on its borders with Turkey.
– Do you have any proof?
There is no such explainable document or proof in hand, as this is done with intense security care and in their borders. But the frequent traffic of ISIS members to and from Turkey, especially those that come from Europe to join this group, has made us more certain.
They come to Syria from Turkey, everybody knows this. The passports that we have taken from them, confirms our claims.
– Have you talked to Turkish officials? Have you communicated your concerns?
They always formally deny all the issues, but actually their support of ISIS forces continues in the battle fields.
We have many reports and information that they deliver light and heavy weapons to ISIS every day.
We have a common border from Dayrik to Afrin, which is more than 850 kilometers. Since the beginning of the revolution in Syria, we have not made any of these borders insecure, but they disturbed the security of the borders many times. We have proved in the last four years that we do not intend to make the borders unsafe.
Our concern is to resolve the Kurds’ problem in the limits of the Syrian borders, but they have killed many Kurdish citizens. The government of Mr. Erdogan has formally declared that they would not allow the event in the north of Iraq, happen again in northern Syria. They have Kurdish phobia.
They fear that the revolution in Rojava have some influences on the expectation level of the Kurdish people in Turkish Kurdistan (Bakurê Kurdistanê).
– It seems that in that case, their concern is logical, is not that right?
It must be influential, as anything happening in any part of Kurdistan, affects the other part. That is a fact.
The Kurdish issue in the Middle East is the issue of all Kurds and other nations in the region. And everybody must know that this issue should be solved politically.
– One of the accusations that the Turkish State expresses about you, is that YPG is a branch of the PKK (The Kurdish Workers Party), and you are following the policies of the PKK in Syria. How do you evaluate such claim as YPG?
The Turkish State just wants to evade the issue. They have not been able to solve the Kurds’ problem and have not shown any clear intention for facing this reality, so they just make excuse.
We have repeatedly said that there are not any organizational and training relations between us and the PKK.
The PKK and Turkish State should resolve their problems in a reconciliatory process from diplomatic methods.
We have some demands in the limits of the Syrian lands and we will fight for realization of such demands to the last breath. We have no fear to say that aloud.
We are eager to have friendly relations with the Turkish State; they are our neighbors. The future of the Middle East belongs to the nations of this area, not to ISIS. It’s better for Turkey to make rational decisions and have friendly relations with the nations of the region.
– In 2007, Turkey wanted to attack the Iraqi Kurdistan, and even went on to the lands of the Kurdistan up to 50 meters. If in any case, Turkey intends to intrude the Rojava lands in Syria, what will be your reaction?
– We, as the symbol of the will of the people, will not allow the Turkish forces to invade the Rojava even up to one meter in any case.
– Mr. Redur Xelil, in your opinion, for how long does this war continue?
There are many factors involved here. It mostly depends on the trans-regional decisions, especially on the decision of the coalition forces. That is, it depends on the extent to which the coalition forces are eager to help us in the war against ISIS. Currently, we are somehow coordinated with the coalition forces, but it is not satisfactory.
The Middle East is fused with the presence of difference global powers. The Middle East have always been a vast ground for the opportunities of these forces, from U.S.A to Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. They have all profits in the Middle East and if they manage to resolve their problems, the crises in Syria and Iraq will end.
If the profits that have kept this terrorist group alive are not revisited, certainly the issues will continue.
– I understand from your words that you regard those very powers as the causes of the problems in Iraq and Syria, from the formation of ISIS and also the continuation of the current crisis.
Indeed, one cannot excuse them. You know that in less than one year, before their own eyes, ISIS began its conquest, equipped its forces, and founded the Islamic State
– Since when are you talking to coalition forces?
Since the arrival of ISIS at Kobani, these interactions began.
– Are their air raids really effective?
Definitely! We cannot ignore their influence. But by and large, the coalition forces and all the other forces are aware of this fact that the main role is played by YPG in the battle fields.
If there is no field force which can control the geographical area, then we cannot eliminate ISIS with the air raiders.
Unfortunately, the internal problems of the coalition forces, has reduced their contribution in Serikani and other places. At the moment, they have focused on Iraq.
This point is one of our concerns, and we hope that they add to their numbers in Tal Tamar and Serikani. They have formed this coalition to eliminate ISIS, while the only force who have managed to control their severe attacks in Syria was YPG.
– In your opinion, are the coalition forces more inclined to keep the force balance in Syrian and Iraq or to eliminate ISIS?
I cannot really say, but the evidences show that there is not the enough motivation for fighting ISIS among the coalition forces.
– What about Turkey? Is it a part of the coalition?
No, Turkey has not joined yet. They have talked about the necessity of forming a coalition but nothing has been done indeed. They say we are against ISIS but they have neither accepted the coalition nor joined it.
– After the liberation of Kobani and considering the global dimension of the resistance in the city, have there not been any weaponry supports to YPG?
So far, even one bullet has not been given to us in the war against ISIS.Their support has been just in words not in sending military aids. They have talked about the YPG and our resistance several times, but we have seen nothing in practice.
ISIS is dangerous for all of us, from the U.S.A to this Middle East. At the moment, the only forces that are combating against ISIS on the real hard ground and have managed to control them are the Kurd forces. Therefore, if there is any intention to eliminate this terrorist group among the regional and global powers, supporting the YPG would be beneficiary for all.
– You say that you are completely in blockade from every corner, so how do you get all these light and heavy weapons of yours?
There is a bitter truth in the Middle East, which is the existence of the black market of selling weapon. Therefore, no military force will have problems in finding the needed weapons; you just need to pay the price. The weapon trade isall going on in the region. I think that some countries make profits out of this market.
– If outside the Rojava borders, you mark an intention in the coalition and Syrian opposition forces to eliminate ISIS, Would you cooperate with them? For example, in Ar-Raqqah, Aleppo or other places.
Yes, for sure. As we believe that the security establishment in Syria and in the Middle East is to our profit and we have been and will be the main force in fighting ISIS.
– Have you felt this intention in them?
The Foreign Volunteer Soldiers of the YPG
– As more than 25 thousand people from different countries have joined ISIS forces, I have also seen some foreign soldiers, fighting along the YPG in several fronts of the Jazira Canton. How do you communicate and coordinate with them? How many of them are there in the fronts?
One cannot compare the foreign soldiers who have joined ISIS and also the foreigners who are fighting for the YPG , both intellectually and in case of numbers.
About 300 foreign forces have joined us, but ISIS main forces are foreigners. At first, we had some problems in organizing them. The vast language diversities, tactical differences, and their unfamiliarity with our movement and the real conditions of the battle field, were the barriers of the easy communications with them. Most of them are the veterans from different countries who have been trained in the integrated armies of the world but we have also our own imitations. In general, they are capable fighters.
We as the YPG have no problems in case of the number of the people, but our problem is the lack of heavy, advanced and super advanced weapons
– What weapons do you need most?
Heavy weapons like autocannon, DShK, fuse, etc. our military needs are a lot.
– When the regime abandoned the Rojava, did not you get their former stations military facilities?
No, very little and trivial if any
– What about the things you gained from the fights with ISIS?
Those things were also few and generally most of the equipment and facilities we get from them, are old and dysfunctional , for example we have gained some tanks that have no use.
We cannot rely on the things we get from the enemies as those things do not fulfill our needs in the war against those evil forces.
– Before the interview, you told me about the ISIS captives. Are there any commanders among them?
When they are caught, they do not say that they are commanders or not. We have established special investigation committees to probe into these issues. The obvious fact is that most of them are Syrians. Some of them repent of their actions, and some other still regard us as infidels.
Zanyar Omrani is a filmmaker and Kurdish human rights activist.